Newly Modified Russian Tanks Arrive Near Ukrainian Border

New video shows modified T-72B3 tanks in southwestern Russia

Newly Modified Russian Tanks Arrive Near Ukrainian Border

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BANNER: Source: Reuters. Russian tanks at the Pokrovskoye railway station.

On March 24, Reuters published a video reportedly shot “at a railroad station in Pokrovskoye” in Russia’s Rostov Oblast. In the video, we can see about a dozen pieces of military equipment, including T-72B3 tanks, arriving by rail, along with Russian soldiers unloading transported materials.

Where were the tanks unloaded?

We can confirm the location of the video as Pokrovskoye by cross-referencing the buildings in the video and visible characteristics on satellite imagery via Google Earth.

At one point in the video, a tank with the number 515 is hauled by a truck, with a grocery store with a red roof, a structure with an angular roof, and a grain elevator in the background. Near the railway in Pokrovskoye, we can find the same landmarks on Google Earth:

Source: Reuters
Source: Reuters
Source: Google Earth

After the tank passes the person filming, the camera continues to track the tank. In the distance, we can observe a few white fuel tanks. After finding these fuel tanks on satellite imagery, we can deduce that the tanks were headed southeast from the rail yard.

Source: Reuters
Source: Google Earth. Fuel tanks to the southeast of the railway depot where the military equipment was unloaded.

Taken together, we can map out the path of where tank 515 was unloaded from the railway, loaded onto a truck, and then driven southeast away from Pokrovskoye.

Composite of Reuters video (source) and satellite imagery accessed via Google Earth.

This is far from the first time that the railway station at Pokrovskoye has been used to transport military equipment near the Ukrainian border. A comparison of the site in publicly accessible satellite images on Google Earth shows the frequent activity at the site in 2014 and 2015.

Time-lapse comparison of the railway station at Pokrovskoye from to October 5, 2014 to December 15, 2015 (source: Google Earth)

What equipment was filmed?

About a dozen pieces of military equipment were filmed in the short Reuters video, including T-72B3 tanks and an MT-LBu (multi-purpose tracked vehicle).

Source: Reuters. An MT-LBu with the number “403” filmed near Pokrovskoye.
Source: Reuters. Two tanks filmed at a railway station in Pokrovskoye.
Source: Reuters. A T-72B3 tank unloaded near Pokrovskoye.
Source: Reuters.Series of tanks parked near Pokrovskoye.

An interesting feature of some of these T-72B3 tanks is that they have upgraded side plating, possibly from the newer Russian T-90 tanks. Also on March 24, Russian news agency TASS reported that the Tamanskaya motorized infantry division (military unit 23626) received twenty modernized T-72B3 tanks with modified armor plates — perhaps the same type observed in the Reuters video. Additionally, the black, rubber side skirt was modified, reaching much lower than with other T-72B3 tanks.

Source: Reuters. T-72B3 tank with modified side plating. Note the low position of the black, rubber side skirt below the armor plating.
Source: Reuters. T-72B3 tank with modified side plating. Note the low position of the black, rubber side skirt below the armor plating.

For comparison, previously observed modified T-72B3 armor may only include three separate plates, as seen in this photograph from 2014.

Source: A.V. Karpenko, Taken January 27, 2014.

Or they may not have any added plates at all, as seen in this Victory Day parade in 2014.

Source: photograph taken by Vitaly Kuzmin. T-72B3 tank in Nizhny Novgorod on May 9, 2014.

Bellingcat’s Veli-Pekka Kivimäki noted that these T-72B3 tanks from the Reuters video had Relikt ERA panels added to the side.

He also noted that the side armor is similar to that previously seen installed on the T-90SM tank.

For more information on the T-72B3 tank and how to identify them, see Veli-Pekka Kivimäki’s guide “Tankspotting: How to Identify the T-72B3.”

Where are these tanks headed?

Most likely, they were heading for the Kuzminsky firing range, a massive Russian base about twenty-five kilometers east of Pokrovskoye.

Pokrovskoye (left) and the Kuzminsky firing range (right) on Google Earth.

For context, the Pokrovskoye railway station is about thirty-five kilometers from the Ukrainian border, while the Kuzminsky base is about forty-five kilometers away from the border.

Pokrovskoye, the Kuzminsky firing range, and the Russia-Ukraine border (yellow) on Google Earth.

A major influx of soldiers from the Southern Military District has been observed at the Kuzminsky base, as detailed in last week’s DFRLab Minsk Monitor piece “Geolocated: Russian Military Convoys Near Ukrainian Border.” We will continue to monitor Russian military deployments near the Ukrainian border.