As Russia’s wider war on Ukraine grinds into its 11th month, the Russian army’s tanks are in bad shape. That is, if the purported experience of one battalion is any indication.
The battalion’s catastrophically bad combat-readiness seems to make a mockery of Russia’s threat to re-invade northern Ukraine ... 10 months after its forces retreated from northern Ukraine.
Vladlen Tatarsky, a prominent pro-Russian war correspondent and blogger, on Jan. 3 highlighted the tank battalion belonging to an unspecified, but supposedly elite, division that’s preparing to deploy to the Ukraine front.
Tatarsky relayed comments from one of the battalion’s tankers as the man inspected his 42-ton, three-person T-72. “The engine cannot be started,” the tanker moaned. “It is impossible to check the operation of the systems. The gun cannot be loaded.”
The tank is, in other words, useless in combat. And it’s not the exception. “No one is doing anything to restore the technology,” the tanker claimed. “There are no spare parts. ... And no one cares! How many tanks of the battalion are capable of participating in hostilities is unknown.”
Despite this, the battalion—which Rob Lee, an analyst with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, identified as belonging to the 2nd Motor Rifle Division—recently passed a general’s inspection. “He appreciated it satisfactorily and left,” the tanker mused.
The battalion’s commander, a Maj. Rasim Tagiev, got captured early in the wider war and spent four months as a prisoner of Ukraine before returning to his division.
He’s a drinker, now—and a pyromaniac. “Already twice set fire to the headquarters of the battalion,” the tanker reported. “Has no authority among officers and soldiers.”
The battalion—which on paper should have around 40 tanks and 400 troops—apparently is in Belarus, resetting after the Ukrainian army’s 1st Tank Brigade thoroughly wrecked it in the Battle of Chernihiv back in February and March. That battle represented a turning point in Russia’s doomed, six-week effort to capture Kyiv from the north and bring the wider war to a swift end.
Today the battalion Tatarsky highlighted is one of the Russian formations that, having redeployed to Belarus and southern Russia in order to re-equip, now are poised to launch a fresh offensive toward Kyiv.
Russian and Belarusian sources keep hinting at this supposed impending offensive. The Ukrainian army is taking the threat seriously, and has been reinforcing its troops along Ukraine’s northern border. The reinforcements include the army’s new 47th Assault Brigade and its ex-Slovenian M-55S tanks.
But if the sad state of the 2nd Motor Rifle Division’s tank battalion is any indication, the Russian army lacks the combat power to mount a serious, second attempt to capture Kyiv. Especially as Russian and allied forces continue expending enormous quantities of men and equipment on failed attempts to capture Ukrainian positions in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
It’s impossible to verify with perfect certainty that the tanker’s report is true and representative. But it is at least consistent with many other anecdotes from inside what appears to be a slowly collapsing Russian war effort.
Having lost 100,000 men and thousands of armored vehicles—including 1,600 tanks—the Russian army probably is in no shape to mount a big new offensive. Indeed, it’s the Ukrainians who apparently are setting conditions for a large-scale attack in 2023.