This week, Russia celebrated its annual Victory Day parade – an event meant to celebrate the former Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
The public holiday is arguably one of the most significant holidays in Russia as it represents a central component of the country’s modern identity. Typically, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin addresses the public during the military parade as countless soldiers, weapons and equipment traverse through the Red Square.
This year’s celebration, however, was strikingly different from past years. Specifically, only one Soviet-era main battle tank (MBT) took part in the parade’s procession. The lone T-34 accompanied a mere 8,000 soldiers in the smallest Victory Day parade to take place in over fifteen years. Comparably, even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic roughly 13,000 soldiers participated in the procession. In addition to the noticeable lack of troops and tanks was the absence of fighter jets.
Where are Russia’s MBTs?
Like many of Moscow’s airframes, its fleet of MBTs has sharply declined since the outbreak of the Ukraine invasion. The few remaining tanks that Russia currently maintains are likely at the front lines of the battlefield.
Oryx, an open source intelligence platform that is widely cited by industry experts, predicts that Moscow is losing approximately 150 MBTs a month in Ukraine. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that Russia has lost half of its more modern T-72 tanks since the onset of the war, in addition to nearly two-thirds of its T-80 stockpile. Significantly, Russia’s “top-of-the-line” T-14 Armata MBT was also missing from action in this year’s Victory Day parade. This purported deadly tank has been over-hyped by the Kremlin but has yet to be seen partaking in combat in Ukraine.
Moscow is turning to storage to replenish its tank fleets
In fact, so many of Russia’s premiere MBTs have been destroyed, captured or simply left behind by ill-equipped troops that the Kremlin has turned to its arsenal of antiquated weapons to fulfill its war needs. Due in part to the wrath of economic sanctions North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members have imposed, Moscow has also been unable to replace lost tanks with new ones. Last month, a photo circulated on social media depicting Soviet-era T-55 MBTs making their way through Ukraine. While this aging armored vehicle has undergone several enhancements over the years, the variants seen in Kyiv appear to have not been upgraded.
Although many Soviet-era tanks have been shipped to the frontlines in Ukraine to support the Kremlin’s war effort, the T-34 is not one of them. According to The Drive, Russia has made efforts to secure T-34 MBTs to serve as military relics in public parades or to be installed in museums.
For this reason, the presence of the T-34 at the Victory Day parade should not be surprising. However, the lack of modern equipment in larger quantities has been mocked by mainstream media outlets.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s official Twitter account remarked that “modern Russian military equipment can be found much more easily at Ukrainian military trophies exhibitions than at the Victory Parade in Moscow.”
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.