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Return of soviet-era tanks to front lines in the Ukrainian conflict

As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine enters its third year, reports confirm the deployment of Cold War-era tanks by the Russian army in direct assaults against Ukrainian positions. This resurgence of outdated military equipment raises questions about the evolving dynamics of modern warfare and the strategies employed by both sides in the ongoing conflict.
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A Russian T-55 tank was destroyed in an undisclosed location in Ukraine during the summer of 2023 (Picture source: NMFTE on Telegram)

After facing setbacks in their attempts to capture Kyiv in early 2022 and challenges in increasing tank production, the Russian army turned to its inventory of Cold War-era tanks, including T-62s, T-72s, T-80s, and even T-55s dating back to the late 1950s. Despite initial skepticism, Russian forces refurbished and deployed these aging tanks on the front lines in Ukraine, showcasing their adaptability and resourcefulness in the face of logistical constraints.

Initially, these obsolete tanks were reconfigured into improvised artillery platforms, positioned far from the front lines to target Ukrainian positions without risking direct retaliation. However, as the conflict persisted and tank losses exceeded 2,600, Russian regiments increasingly deployed these aging tanks directly into combat, challenging Ukrainian brigades in direct engagements.

According to several sources in British intelligence, in order to offset its losses, Russia committed to producing over 100 tanks per month, even though its production capabilities did not allow for it. Nevertheless, it was able to reach this figure by relying on the modernization of older tanks previously in storage. However, this inevitably limited stockpile will not sustain such a pace in the long term.

Despite their age and limitations in armor thickness and firepower, these tanks pose a significant threat to Ukrainian forces, particularly in the absence of adequate artillery support due to international political dynamics. Russia has notably been able to use these vehicles in a support role normally carried out by infantry fighting vehicles.

While some of these tanks received emergency upgrades, including new radios and reactive armor, many remain unchanged from their original configuration. Nevertheless, their presence on the battlefield underscores the challenges facing Ukrainian forces and the ongoing efforts to adapt to evolving tactics and technologies.

Finally, the deployment of these tanks poses a challenge for Ukraine, which is unable to produce them in the same quantity. As the conflict enters its third year and some voices are raised against the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, notably due to a reform lowering the age of soldier recruitment, Ukraine's survival remains contingent on the support of Western countries and partly the United States.

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