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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Tracking Russian Weapons

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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Modernised T-72s Documented Near Starobeshevo After The Battle For Ilovaisk

At least five wrecked or abandoned T-72B3 or BA tanks, neither of which have seen service outside the Russian Federation, have been documented at three different sites near Starobeshevo, including Novokaterinovka, where Ukrainian troops engaged them as they attempted to break out of Ilovaisk at the end of August last year.

The most well-known of these wrecks were documented by Maria Tsvetkova and Aleksandar Vasovic for Reuters in October last year:



Judging from the distinctive Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armour (ERA) wedges around the turret, the sights and the track configuration, we can identify these as T-72BA tanks. This model has never been exported to Ukraine.

ANNA News, a fervently pro-Kremlin propaganda channel, visited the same site, in the fields south-east of the village of Gorbatenko, in September, 2014. 

While the video has been tagged as "destroyed armoured vehicles of the Ukrainian army," the footage clearly shows the same T-72BAs:



Around 12 kilometres to the north-east, a T-72B3, a similar model that only entered Russian service in 2013, was abandoned the fighting on August 29, 2014.

Ukrainian troops told Obozrevatel that they had captured five Russian soldiers while fighting to push south through the village of Chervonoselskoye, along with tank.

The tank, which they could not take with them as it had broken down, bore the white, circular markings used by the Russian army during their summer offensive last year.


The tank can be identified as a T-72B3 as it carries the prominent Sosna-U thermal imaging system on the turret:


As the Ukrainian soldier says in the video, another Russian T-72, again bearing the Kontakt-5 ERA unique to the modernised variants that have not been exported to Ukraine, was destroyed in the battle.

Ukraine's 24 Channel published photos of this wreck: 


Finally, the pro-separatist Oplot-Info YouTube channel uploaded the following video on October 9:

At around 2:17 into the footage, we can see the remains of another T-72B3, with an exposed socket indicating where the Sosna-U sight had been connected.


Signs seen in the video indicate that it was filmed near Starobeshevo, and one shot can be matched against Google Earth images of bends in the river Kalmius, just north-west of Novokaterinovka:



Read our full report here.

-- Pierre Vaux

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian T-64 Spotted In Gorlovka On June 20, 2014

On June 20, 2014, a large convoy of military vehicles including 4 main battle tanks and several BMP armored vehicles were spotted traveling in various cities in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine. Analysis of those videos suggest that the convoy traveled from southeast Lugansk (possibly coming from the Russian border), through Debaltsevo and on to Gorlovka:


A screen capture of four of the tanks in the convoy, taken from one video of the convoy while it was in Alchevsk, west of Lugansk:

2015-08-17 20:35:55
An even better view of the convoy can be seen in this video taken in Gorlovka:
Two screenshots from the video:
2015-08-17 20:48:08
2015-08-17 20:48:08

This picture reportedly shows the same convoy in Debaltsevo before reaching Gorlovka:

For reference, here are several pictures of Russian T-64s, provided by



The tanks in this convoy are clearly T-64s.

While the Ukrainian military also uses T-64 main battle tanks, none of these vehicles are marked with identifying symbols indicating the tank's unit, and none of them use camouflage patterns consistent with the Ukrainian military's. These are indications that these tanks may have been supplied directly by the Russian military, and are perhaps even driven by Russian soldiers.

For comparison, here is a Ukrainian T-64 which was captured by the Russian-backed fighters between June 16 and June 18:

2015-08-20 05:44:18

This picture reportedly shows Ukrainian troops patroling the village of Novoselovka on July 31, 2014:


Compare that the the plain light-green of the tanks analyzed above which are missing all identifying markings:

2015-08-17 20:48:08
This suggests that these weapons may have been supplied by the Russian military.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
T-64s Appear Between June 12 and June 18

So far the earliest documented example of a tank being driven by Russian-backed fighters in eastern Ukraine which we have been able to find dates back to June 12, 2014.

Initially mistaken for a T-72, at least one T-64 was spotted in Snezhnoye, Donetsk region (near the future crash site of MH17) on June 12 (videos analyzed here, the best of which is below).

A better look at the tank in question:
2015-07-28 16:00:25

These tanks were spotted by citizen reporters and traditional journalists, moving through various cities including Donetsk, Makiivka, and Slavyansk.

But where did the T-64s come from?

 Before the video of these tanks emerged, Ukrainian interior minister  Arseniy Avakov said that three tanks (T-72s) crossed the border the previous night.

NATO analyzed this video and released a statement saying that they believed this to be a Russian tank, one of three which were spotted on declassified satellite photos loaded onto transporters on the Russian side of the border just a day earlier:

NATO is providing a series of images (see below) to the public in order to inform debate regarding recent events in the border region of Russia and Ukraine.  

The imagery shows that on 30 May in Rostov-na-Donu, a Russian unit was deployed, but no tanks were present at the time the image was taken.  

Imagery from the 6th of June shows the Russian unit departing, which we believe was part of a Russian announcement to pull troops back from the border region.  In the context of this overall withdrawal, 8 main battle tanks are shown to have arrived.

On the 11th of June, 10 main battle tanks can be seen at the site.  3 of these are parked, 4 are in the training area, and 3 are loaded heavy equipment transport trucks that are normally used to move tanks, likely indicating imminent movement by road.  

On the 12th of June, Ukrainian officials report that 3 main battle tanks and several armoured vehicles crossed the border at the Dovzhanskyy border crossing, which was under the control of pro-Russian elements of the so-called "People’s Republic of Luhansk.”  Sightings of these tanks were later reported in open sources in Snizhne and then Makiivka, near Donetsk.  The tanks do not bear markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military.  In fact, they do not have markings at all, which is reminiscent of tactics used by Russian elements that were involved in destabilising Crimea.

This video was taken the same day in nearby Torez, and shows three T-64s in a convoy of troop transports, with towed artillery (with a bus, possibly full of combatants, trailing).

A screenshot of one of the tanks:

2015-07-28 16:57:08

Notice that both share the same color-scheme, which, as the NATO statement mentioned, is very different from the Ukrainian military's paint schemes.

However, not all tanks fit this pattern.

After a week of escalating violence, T-64 tanks once again made headlines on June 17. That day, video emerged showing a captured T-64b tank, captured either at that battle or before it. What is clear is that the paint is very much different than the tanks pictured in the previous examples. Whereas the tanks mentioned above have no markings, an analysis by bloggers of the markings on this tank indicates that these vehicles belonged to Ukraine's 24th Motor Rifle Division, station in Lviv region. The vehicle's sites have been shot out, apparently by a sniper.

A transcript of this video was made by The Interpreter and can be found here. The men in the video say that they captured the tanks.

By June 17, at a major battle near Schastye, 11 Ukrainian servicemen were killed. It's not clear what role, specifically, the tanks played in this fight, but it is clear that by mid June, just a week after the first tanks appeared in separatist hands, the Ukrainian government was already suffering increase casualties.

Before June 12 there is no evidence that tanks were used by the Russian-backed fighters in this conflict. And yet, a pro-Kremlin Russian news website,, which has spread disinformation in the past, reported on June 9 , three days before the first T-64s were spotted, that Russian-backed fighters had captured three T-64s. The report did not offer any details of the battle beyond that it happened in "the suburbs of Lugansk." There is no record of a battle which corresponds to this report.

In short, if the Russian government were going to send T-64s to Ukraine they would need to leak information to justify this. We saw them use a similar tactic to explain the presence of a Buk anti-aircraft missile in Ukraine before the downing of MH17.