Ukraine Claims Russia Is Creating ‘Division of WWII-Era T-34s’

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

The Ukrainian government claims Russia is creating a division of vintage T-34 tanks scavenged from Second World War memorials.

“After [R]ussia began deconserving its T-54 tanks manufactured in [the] late 1940s, they also decided to create a division of WWII era T-34s,” alleged Oleksii Reznikov, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Minister of Defence, on social media.

“The plan is to take them down from pedestals in towns and cities across the country,” he said, referring to the many old tanks dotted across Russia and the former Soviet Union as memorials to the Great Patriotic War, as the Russians term the Second World War.

“Abramses, Leopards and Challengers must be really scared now,” Reznikov scoffed, in reference to the much more modern American, German, and British heavy tanks many Western countries have pledged to Ukraine — albeit generally in very small numbers.

Ukrainian state media also reported on “Russia’s plan to create a division of WWII era T-34 tanks”, citing Reznikov, who as evidence for his claim offered a clip of a discussion on Russian television in which a guest of host Vladimir Solovyov complained of “inappropriate jokes about us having to remove T-34 tanks from the pedestals soon” after it emerged that aged T-54 and T-55 tanks are being taken out of storage, probably if not certainly for use in Ukraine.

“If it is necessary, we will,” Solovyov’s interlocutor declared.

“We can equip an armoured division with tanks from the pedestals. When everyone else runs out of everything, we will still have this stockpile; the same stockpile that belonged to the Soviet Union, our fathers, is now coming into play. It makes no sense to mock it.”

Whether this rhetorical flourish on a notably hawkish Russian television show is really evidence of a concrete plan to use ancient and almost certainly inoperable tanks repurposed as war memorials to raise an armoured division is highly dubious, however.

While the T-62s, already reactivated and deployed to Ukraine, first entered service in the early 1960s, and the T-54s and T-55s which seem likely to follow them first entered service as long ago as the reign of Joseph Stalin, both have been kept in storage — if not always in the best condition — in fairly large numbers, and have readily available stocks of otherwise useless ammunition the Russians can draw on in a war which has burned through munitions at an alarming rate.

Previous claims that Russia was calling up T-34s for use in Ukraine, based on video footage of the old armour being transported by rail, were debunked by fact-checkers at Reuters and elsewhere, who found that the footage actually dated to 2019, and featured tanks which had been bought from Laos for use in Victory Day parades, exhibitions, and museums.

The fact that the T-34s had to be re-imported from Laos at all suggests Russia likely does not possess working examples of the vintage vehicles in anything like the same numbers as the T-62 or T-55/54 — the most-manufactured tank in history, and relatively easy to source parts and ammunition for — or indeed more modern tanks such as T-64s and even T-72s, which Russia also has in storage.

Nevertheless, technology significantly older than the T-34 has in fact been put to good use in the Ukraine war already, with observers particularly taken by Ukrainian forces’ use of Maxim M1910 machine guns — first manufactured in 1910, and based on an even older 19th-century model — alongside 21st-century equipment such as drones.

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