The Russian military was a tank superpower until the war in Ukraine – having lost thousands of tanks in combat. Now Putin’s forces are actually leaving behind the top-tier T-90 tank, one of the best on Earth, in Ukraine.
Russian troops fleeing Ukraine’s battlefield advances are leaving behind heavy weapons, including modern T-90 tanks Russia counts among its best main battle tanks, and the Ukrainian armed forces are putting them back into the fight, Kyiv’s military said.
Meet the T-90
“Thanks to the generosity of the russian federation, the first batch of new T-90A tanks entered into service with #UAarmy,” Ukraine’s defense ministry said on social media Thursday, mockingly calling the move “particularly generous because at the same time the ruscists are launching a program to restore 60-year-old T-62 tanks for their own armed forces.”
Russia has touted the T-90, a modern weapon born out of a T-72 modernization program in the final years of the Soviet Union that has been upgraded repeatedly over time, as one of the most advanced tanks in its arsenal, but even with capable tanks, Russian armor forces have faced setbacks and substantial losses in Ukraine.
Russian forces have lost lots of modern equipment throughout the devastating war in Ukraine and have been forced to pull old and obsolete tanks — like the T-62 referenced by Ukraine’s military — from storage. The T-62 is a Soviet-era main battle tank that was eventually replaced by the T-72 and can be seen on display in some museums.
Russia Keeps Losing Tanks
According to an open-source intelligence analysis by Oryx, Russia, as of Wednesday, has lost over 7,000 vehicles and other forms of heavy weaponry — like artillery pieces and missile systems — since its forces invaded Ukraine in late February. This designation includes Russian equipment that’s been destroyed, damaged, captured, or abandoned.
More specifically, Russia has lost over 1,320 tanks — of which over 500 have been captured or abandoned. Losses include nearly 30 T-90A and T-90M tanks.
Some observers have speculated that capture of the T-90M, which is an upgraded version of the T-90A, could help provide Ukraine and NATO countries with valuable insight into Russia’s advanced military technology, which Russian President Vladimir Putin would probably have preferred remain in Russian hands.
Tanks aren’t the only weapons that Russian forces are leaving behind in the face of Ukrainian advances. Moscow’s troops have abandoned mountains of high-value weaponry, overwhelming Ukraine’s ability to handle it all.
And on top of what Ukrainian forces have recovered from Russian troops, Kyiv also continues to enjoy military assistance and security packages from Western countries — much to the dismay of the Kremlin, which continues to threaten against the support.
The Russian military’s inability to destroy some of its vehicles or heavy weaponry when its forces retreat is another sign of disfunction on the battlefield and seems to suggest that there’s either little to no procedures in place or that they had to flee quickly and didn’t have time to neutralize the equipment.
Britain’s defense ministry said last month that the way Russian forces have retreated seems to vary.
“Some units retreated in relatively good order and under control, while others fled in apparent panic,” it wrote in an intelligence update.
Russian Forces in Retreat
The retreat of Russian forces from key positions has been a relatively common theme since early September, when Ukrainian forces launched counteroffensives along the war’s eastern and southern fronts. Moscow’s military setbacks have forced Russian President Vladimir Putin to take several escalatory steps, including a partial military mobilization and even nuclear threats.
The past few days have been particularly turbulent as Russian forces launched several missile and suicide drone attacks on targets across Ukraine — including cities far from the front lines. The US and its NATO allies are now rushing to provide Ukraine with air defense systems.
“Ukraine is not asking for soldiers from any other country. The Ukrainians are willing to fight for themselves. All they ask for is the means to do it,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters on Wednesday after meeting in Brussels with US allies and partners.
“As President Biden has said and many other national leaders have said, we will do as much as we can for as long as we can, and we will do as much as it takes for as long as it takes,” he added.
Jake Epstein is a Junior Breaking News Reporter on the Speed Desk, based in Boston, for Insider, where this first appeared. He focuses on military, defense, and security issues.