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Published in Stream:
Ukraine Liveblog Day 211
Press by
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Showing Off A 'Captured' T-72B3 Tank, Separatists Provide Further Evidence Of Russian Support
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The following video was uploaded by Russia's Vesti yesterday. In it, separatists show off their "trophy," a T-72 tank they claim to have captured from Ukrainian forces.

The video is described thus (translated by The Interpreter):

The first such vehicle captured by the militia. This T-72 has been modernised, with the near maximum combat outfit. The crew abandoned the tank after being struck by a shell in the side and turret. The damage has not affected the combat capability of the vehicle. The internal electronics are of foreign manufacture. They allow one to track the movements of allied tanks in the group. This is a so-called command tank. Soon enough, it will join the ranks of the armed forces of the DNR.

The problem for the separatists is, however, that this tank is clearly a T-72B3, a model that has not been exported outside Russia and serves extensively in Russia's armed forces.

Joseph Dempsey, an analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, who has previously written on Russia's deployment of this very model to their border with Ukraine, has confirmed this identification:

Similar tanks, have been seen operating in eastern Ukraine on several occasions, having been located near Sverdlovsk, Krasnodon and at a 'Novorossiya' parade in Perevalsk. Dempsey confirmed to the BBC that the tanks filmed near Sverdlovsk were T-72BMs and stressed that these tanks had not been exported.

The attention drawn by Vesti to the foreign electronics, as seen in the screenshot below of a French-made Thales Optotronique sight, only serves as further evidence of the Russian origin of this vehicle.

140916-thales-optotronique-t-72b3.png

Thales have had well-publicised contracts with Russia to install thermal imaging equipment, as described here.

The tank is without doubt, recently imported from Russia and is not from Ukrainian military stocks.

It is possible however, that the tank was indeed captured from Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine has captured a number of Russian tanks and other armoured vehicles during engagements. Yesterday, for example, Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, told reporters that, following an attempt by Russian or Russian-backed fighters to capture Donetsk Airport, one Russian tank was captured.

More relevant though, is an account, published by Censor.NET's Yuriy Butusov, by Ukrainian Colonel Evgeniy Sidorenko.

The report has been translated into English by Aleks Burduli and is available to read here on Burkonews.info

Sidorenko, who fought in and escaped the carnage in Ilovaisk, describes capturing a Russian T-72B3 tank:

Nevertheless, our battle group with the help of a BMP disabled a Russian tank. I was not a participant in this fight, but I was immediately summoned to inspect the trophy. The tank crew left the vehicle and ran away together with other Russian armored vehicles.

I climbed into the tank and found that it is the latest modification of the Russian T-72B-3, which entered service in 2012. The main modification is the thermal sight “SOSNA-U” for the commander and the gunner. The sights on the tank were damaged by our fire, but after a small repair it was possible to use them, although the thermal sight and gun vertical stabilizer did not work. The rest of the tank was fully functional.

Here we should note that the SOSNA-U sighting system described above does indeed include the Thales Catherine FC thermal imaging system seen above.   

According to documents the tank belonged to the military section of the Russian Federation № 54096 – this is the 8th Motorized Rifle Brigade, 3rd Tank Company. The company commander was listed as Rashitov A.R., and the tank commander as Sergeant Goncharov. I took the tank into service of our group, and personally drove it to our position. During the break out this tank saved the lives of many of our soldiers, and me personally.

Sidorenko and his crew set off to escape from Ilovaisk in the tank, and travelled near the front of the column, using the tank to suppress enemy fire, destroying a Russian BMP infantry fighting vehicle. 

Eventually however, Sidorenko and his crew were forced to abandon the vehicle:

Our tank was fatally hit after about 22 kilometers from our start position. We had to break between Russian positions. By that time we had already been hit on the side and we had received multiple injuries, secondary tank armor fragments. All monitoring devices and sight were completely broken. We almost broke out, but then we received a direct hit from a tank gun. Martyniuk banged himself of a surveillance device and lost consciousness.

Under the cover of machine gun fire, I pulled Evgenyi from the tank and bandaged him. Luckily his eyes remained intact, although he had numerous shrapnel wounds to the face. It was impossible to repair the vehicle, so we had to leave it.

The Vesti video gives no hint as to the location of the vehicle, and we cannot say that we see the damage suggested by Sidorenko on this particular vehicle. However this report, if true, would serve as an example of how separatist forces could apparently capture a Russian tank in Ukrainian service.

The alternate possibility is of course, that the tank has never been captured, but was painted with the twin white stripes used by Ukrainian forces to identify friendly vehicles to provide cover for the arrival of such equipment.