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Putin is Betting on the T-90M Tank to Turn the Tide in Ukraine

Russian T-90M tank. Image Credit: Twitter.

The T-90M, A Short Primer – Despite the best propaganda efforts on the part of the Kremlin, it is obvious that the war in Ukraine isn’t going as planned. Since launching its unprovoked invasion in late February, Russia has failed to meet its key objectives – and even as Mariupol had fallen to Russian forces earlier this week, it is essentially a pyrrhic victory for Moscow.

Ukraine’s defense ministry has reported that the Russian military has sustained significant combat losses since it launched its unprovoked and unwarranted attack in late February. To date, Russia has reportedly lost 1,228 tanks, 2,101 vehicles, and 577 artillery systems. In addition, more than 27,000 Russian soldiers have been killed – the largest combat losses since the Second World War, and far greater than the 14,453 troops that the Soviet Union lost in its roughly 10-year war in Afghanistan.

There have also been reports that up to 40,000 Russian soldiers have been killed, wounded, or captured in the conflict.

Farewell of Slav

Russia has looked to “turn the tide” by deploying additional T-90M main battle tanks (MBTs) to the frontlines.

The Kremlin actually relied heavily on ceremony as the tanks were made ready by Uralvagonzavod, the Russian company considered to be the world’s largest battle tank manufacturer. Based in Nizhny Tagil in the Sverdlovsk Oblast, Uralvagonzavod is part of Rostec, the state-owned high-tech defense conglomerate.

According to a report from Newsweek, the T-90s were put on a train and sent off to the front to the tune of “Farewell of the Slav,” a Russian patriotic march written for the Slavic women who accompanied their husbands in the First Balkan war in 1912.

In addition, the MBTs received a blessing from the rector of the church of Dimitry Donskoy, Archpriest John Bragin. Russian state media also reported that drawings and letters from the children of Uralvagonzavod’s workers were put into the tanks as “symbols of our support for Russian soldiers, a sign of respect and faith in their courage.”

T-90M in the Crosshairs

The T-90M “Proryv-3” is an upgraded version of Russia’s most-employed MBT – the T-72, leading to the fighting in Ukraine. It is armed with a 125mm main gun that is capable of hitting targets, including airborne ones, at a distance of up to 3 miles (5 km). The T-90M is also equipped with enhanced protective capabilities that include the “Shtora” (curtain), an electrical jammer fitted to MBTs that deploys smoke grenades when the tank is being targeted by a missile to make it harder to hit, as well as with infrared lights designed to ‘dazzle’ the guidance system of incoming rockets.

Moreover, the T-90s have also been fitted with reactive armor tiles that are designed to explode when struck, and which can throw incoming projectiles off target. The advanced MBTs also feature composite armor that was designed to be tougher than its predecessors and are equipped with an improved engine that provides better maneuverability, especially over rugged ground.

However, the T-90M is reported to have the same turret-equipped ammunition storage that Western defense experts have cited as a significant design flaw and which has been responsible for the massive tank losses suffered in Ukraine. The so-called “jack-in-the-box effect” can occur if an anti-tank missile strikes the turret, which ignites the ammunition stored in the turret to explode – literally blowing off and sending the turret into the sky.

Perhaps it was wise to offer the farewell and blessings to the T-90Ms. Given the way the Russian tanks have performed, both should be welcome by the unfortunate crews who will soon man those metal deathtraps.

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.