There’s a clear intended meaning when one casts out that there are ‘Russian tanks’ on the side of Novorossiya Forces. And it isn’t that it’s a ‘Russian tank’, which in any case it almost certainly is, the vast majority of Ukraine’s 2500+ tanks built in Soviet times as Ukraine’s tank building production collapsed post 1991 independence (Kharkov’s Malyshev factory which produced 800 a year in Soviet times, down to fewer than 10 a year in Ukrainian). Pictured here, a 1989 T72 from a Russian war museum.
What you are saying is that ‘Russia has sent tanks over the border, into Donbass, arming Novorossiya fighters’. It’s a hugely incendiary statement, one to incite yet further US / EU intervention in Ukraine, one to further provoke war.
So it’s a statement which should only be made if there is firm evidence to support it. Yet it’s a statement made all the time by the Ukrainian, even western press, without any evidence to support it. In fact the claiming of Russian tanks, notably T-72 modifications, is common, oft-debunked part of the Ukrainian strategy.
Things have happened in the media in the Donbass conflict. An erosion of traditional western media sending their own correspondents to places, a willingness to take content from new media known as, in this case, pro-Ukraine / anti-Russia propaganda outlets – in the Donbass conflict notably Bellingcat, and Interpreter.
Interpreter ‘broke’ the story, then regurgitated by repeatedly discredited citizen ‘investigative journalism agency’ Bellingcat, under the headline ‘How These Adorable Puppies Exposed Russian Involvement in Ukraine‘
On February 15th, near Debaltsevo, I filmed tanks both these outlets, as well as any number of Ukrainian media, gleefully seized on as ‘Russian tanks’, pumped that information higher up the chain, cited in Buzzfeed here, albeit qualified with ‘claimed’. Yet, still, the (mis)information put out there, circulated, shared, spread. The original video here, by the way –
The difference between a piece of information, and provocative war-mongering – responsible journalism. To pass on, pass off these claims as fact, a hugely irresponsible, morally reprehensible act. Something that could never be done by a real journalist, here’s 5 Reasons Why Real Journalists Wouldn’t Have Said ‘Russian Tanks’ –
1. Few journalists are real experts in tanks. Interpreter magazine is not known for any military knowledge yet was insistent the tanks I filmed were T-72B3’s (a recent upgrade to the 44-year old Soviet T-72 model) – ‘These are Russian T-72B3 tanks.’
The T-72B3 has not been exported outside Russia. These are therefore, not captured Ukrainian tanks in separatist hands, but the latest Russian tanks, likely manned by Russian troops or at least handed over to specially-trained local separatists.
A staggering claim that, so sure that the tanks in question are T-72B3 when even the article linked cites ‘observer misidentification‘, and uncertainty over where the ‘latest update of the venerable, Soviet-era T-72’ were deployed.
Even the popular pro-Ukraine news site ‘Inform Napalm’ admits that the T-72A and T-72BM, both in service with the Ukrainian army, are ‘frequently confused with T-72B3.’
2. What Interpreter can do is draw yellow lines pointing to things, here, on a screenshot of my video, to the Kontakt-5 body armour –
Kontakt 5 armour also found on the T-72AG, in service with the Ukrainian army. T72-AG pictured here.
3. They can also draw red boxes on things – here, what they identify as the ‘ new Sosna-U’ – sighting system.
From a low quality resolution image, as a screenshot of a video is, it’s simply not possible to call the difference between Sosna-U and older sighting systems such as Buran-Catherine .
This video, one of several sites in Donbass for repairing, modifying tanks, carrying out modifications exactly such as sighting systems, armour upgrades.
5. There was no consensus these were T-72B3s. Have a look through the comments on the various YouTube videos, hundreds upon hundreds of comments. There were those who had clearly done in-depth research into the video, here, a super-imposed close-up of the track, then cross-compared against tracks of other modifications, and variations of the T-72.
It came down to track comparison among those with clear expertise in the sphere. Still no consensus. Discussion, debate, dispute, no consensus.
As a journalist, I’d be sure to be certain before making a claim with all the implications of this one. There is a place for ‘crowd-sourcing’ information, as happened here, but that’s surely before these claims are thrown out there, with in this case by the pro-Ukraine side, everything possible done to make them stick.
In Ukraine’s tank arsenal were an estimated 600-plus T-72s, Ukraine even used to trade them, selling 200 to Ethiopia in 2011, under President Yanukovych. This military blog from 2012 shows T72s being upgraded in Kiev.
Even IF the tanks I filmed could be proven to be T-72B3s, something which could only be done by an on-site technical, mechanical analysis, before saying they were ‘Russian tanks’, with all the implication that comes with that, I’d want to verify they were brought over the border in time of war, rather than prior to that, in a Yanukovych era notable for a flow, and trade of weapons and military hardware unaccompanied by a proper paper trail.
The people who make these ‘Russian tank’ claims are not real journalists, rather morally reprehensible, incredibly irresponsible purporters of propaganda. A desire to demonstrate ‘Russian tanks’, yet again shows the failings, professional and moral, of the western proxies of Ukrainian propaganda.