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Russia Was a Tank Superpower: The War in Ukraine Could End That

Russia Tank T-90
Russian T-90 Tank Firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Russia’s New Problem – Lack of Spare Parts for its Tanks: There have been complaints from some U.S. lawmakers that the sanctions imposed on Russia would only cripple that nation’s economy and impact civilians, yet would leave the Russian military largely untouched. However, there are now reports circulating that the sanctions could be hurting Moscow’s military capabilities as well.

At issue are the so-called “dual-use goods,” which have been banned for export to Russia as they can be employed for both civilian and military applications.

The result is that Moscow could be running low on spare parts for its fleet of tanks. Russian defense companies that manufacture armored vehicles and trucks are also impacted as they typically reply on western-made components, Defence-Blog reported.

Shuttering the Tank Lines

The shortage of tank parts could be a significant problem for the Kremlin, and there are reports that Russia’s only tank manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod, has been forced to halt production. That claim was initially made by a report from the Armed Forces of Ukraine but has not been independently verified.

However, the Belarusian media outlet NEXTA tweeted on Monday, “#Russia’s only tank manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod, has stopped its production. The main reason for this is a lack of component parts.”

The Russian defense firm, which is the largest main battle tank (MBT) manufacturer in the world, was added to the European Union’s list of sanctioned Russian companies last month as “the T-72B3 tanks delivered by Uralvagonzavod to the Russian Armed Forces were used by Russia during the illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022.”

Russia Cut Off

The United States and the EU had ordered a complete halt to the export of certain components including microchips to Russia as part of an escalation package of sanctions. Many of the systems on the tank operate on application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs).

“Our aim is to reduce the Kremlin’s capacity to wage war on its neighbor,” explained EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen earlier this month.

Along with stopping the flow of other mechanical parts, those efforts have been working, as it is now slowing – if not completely stopping – Russia’s ability to manufacture and repair its fleet of T-72B3 MBTs, as well as the more advanced T-80s and T-90s, reported.

Tank Losses Mounting

Russia maintains one of the largest – if not the largest – tank forces in the world, and reportedly has somewhere around 12,400 tanks in service, including some 9,950 aging T-72s.  However, for years, there has been speculation as to how many of those tanks are actually operational.

Losses of the operational tanks are also mounting.

Since Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine a month ago, it has lost more than 500 tanks – a figure that has been discussed by U.S. Army officials in Europe. While a significant number of those tanks have been destroyed, there are also reports of tanks that were abandoned or ran out of fuel. On social media, there have been videos of Ukrainians towing away Russian tanks with tractors – although the state of those tanks has been in question.


Russian T-90 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Finlandization Tanks

Russia’s T-90 tanks. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

What is becoming apparent is that Russia likely expected a quick victory, and is now paying a terrible price. The Pentagon estimates that Russia may have already lost a tenth of its invasion force, and that has included at least five general officers and upwards of 12,000 soldiers.

Moscow can still win a war of attrition against Ukraine, but it would leave Russia in an extremely weakened state, a point that for now seems to be almost lost on President Vladimir Putin.

Russia can’t build and repair its tanks and other military ground vehicles now, and the situation likely won’t be improved in another month or two. If the goal of this invasion was to guarantee the security of Russia, it has failed spectacularly.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.