Russia appears to be deploying 75 year old tanks to Ukraine.
According to Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), an open source intelligence group based in the country of Georgia, the Kremlin has started pulling T-54 and T-55 tanks from a storage base in the far east of Russia. The T-54 and T-55 tanks were built starting in the late 1940s and the Soviet Union built a lot of them. The USSR manufactured more than 100,000 of the tanks in the decade after the war, making it the most widely produced tank in the world.
CIT found photos on VK, a Russian social media site, from people near the base that showed the tanks had been pulled from storage. They also found photographs of the tanks being placed on trains for shipment. After CIT published its investigation, footage of the T-54s moving by train appeared online.
Russia’s tanks have been having a bad time in Ukraine. It already deployed Cold War era T-62s, upgraded with reactive armor and modern optics, only to lose most of them. According to Oryx, an open source intelligence group that’s tracking Russian losses in Ukraine, the Kremlin has lost almost 2,000 tanks in Ukraine.
Sending in ancient T-54 retrofitted with modern equipment would certainly bolster the numbers, but it’s hard to imagine them fairing better than T-62s. It’s also impossible to know how many of the 75 year old tanks still work and what’s required to make them run again.
Western equipment like the Javelin has helped Ukraine devastate Russia’s tanks, which have been equipped to handle loitering munitions striking them from above. In the early days of the war, soldiers equipped tanks with make-shift protective armor that observers called “cope cages.” They didn’t help and videos of Russian tanks with bright white Zs on them exploding on the battlefield have become a popular source of propaganda online.
Bayraktar drone strikes, anti-armor missiles, and even RPGs strapped to commercial drones have contributed to Russia’s incredible armored losses in Ukraine. So has incompetence. In May of 2022, the Kremlin lost 70 tanks trying to cross a river.