In the reconquered territories of eastern and southern Ukraine, the yellow and sky-blue flag does not fly only at the entrance to towns and villages. It is also stung on top of Russian tanks, abandoned by soldiers forced to leave the front at full speed.
Since the beginning of September, the Ukrainian army has carried out a lightning counter-offensive on Russian-occupied territories taking over thousands of square kilometers in the separatist regions. “Since October 1 alone and in the Kherson region alone, more than 500 km2 of territory and dozens of localities have been liberated,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday evening.
As the Russian soldiers retreat, they leave behind them a number of weapons and working tanks. Many videos posted on social networks by Ukrainian soldiers attest to this. This Friday, October 7, the English Ministry of Defence, which has provided kyiv with significant military support since the start of the conflict, said in a statement that “captured and reused Russian equipment now constitutes a large part of Ukrainian military equipment”. These recent gains have made Moscow the biggest supplier of heavy weapons to Ukraine, well ahead of the United States or other allies in numbers, according to intelligence analysts interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.
According to the British, Ukraine has seized 440 Russian tanks and nearly 650 armored vehicles since the start of the conflict on February 24. At present, half of the Ukrainian fleet of tanks would thus come from vehicles abandoned by Russian soldiers. The large number of weapons and vehicles seized would represent more than all the donations from the West combined according to our colleagues from the Wall Street Journal. "We have so many trophies that we don't even know what to do with them," Ruslan Andriyko, the chief of staff of the city of Izium, told the American newspaper. "We started as an infantry battalion, and now we're sort of becoming a mechanized battalion."
According to benchmark site Oryx, which documents Russian equipment losses based on visual evidence compiled from social media and news reports, Ukraine also seized 44 multiple rocket launcher systems and 92 self-propelled howitzers. A number that seems below reality because not all captured equipment is filmed.
As for their use, some intact Russian equipment served immediately after capture, while others had to be repaired. Too badly damaged tanks, vehicles and cannons are cannibalized for spare parts. Not all equipment is state of the art. "What they capture is a mix of modern equipment that they can use quite effectively, and some should be in museums," Jakub Janovsky, who compiles Oryx's weapons loss tally, told The Wall Street Journal.
In addition, the Russian military arsenal has weakened considerably since the invasion of Ukraine, degrading its military posture. According to Les Echos, a tenth of its air force, fleet and missile batteries, and up to half of its operational tanks and 40% of its available infantry armor were destroyed. According to the Ukrainian armed forces, this represents nearly 2,466 tanks, 1,455 artillery pieces or 1,067 drones and 266 fighter planes.
As for tanks, specialists point out that Moscow has nearly 8,000 units in reserve. However, many date from Soviet times and are therefore very old. They are now just a reservoir of parts to repair operational tanks.