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The Russian Soldiers' Habit of Abandoning their Vehicles

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.

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As the year 2022 opened, Russia made a bold flex by defying the international community and invading Ukraine. They will free Ukraine of Nazis, they said, and the war won’t last long. Many months passed, and no Nazis were found in Ukraine. Worst, the lightning victory Russia promised never happened, and its army is still at war. Even more surprising is the epic blunder Russia made. When the war began, the world thought that Ukraine was doomed. Then during the opening stages of the war, we see Russian vehicles getting blown, soldiers perishing, and the Ukrainians refusing to go down without a fight. Online trolls claimed that those casualties were just fluke, and Russia was about to send its almighty convoy to take Kiev. It’s a war of attrition, and Ukraine won’t hold up...

Only for Russian convoy to retreat, with its objective to take Kiev going to pieces.

When that happened, the world began to doubt Russia’s superpower status. More blunders followed, with the imposing cruiser Moskva sinking, state of the art fighters going down, and its generals getting killed. And when Ukraine launched a counter offensive to retake the Russian held territories in the south, it became clear to the world that Russia is just a paper tiger. A classic story of an underdog beating a larger opponent transpired, and the Ukrainian army basically demystified the invincibility of the Russian armed forces.

And to show the world how Russia messed up, their troops kept leaving their equipment intact, for the Ukrainians to use. One might wonder what the reason behind such blunder is. The answer lies on the soldier’s poor discipline and messed up planning.

The Captured Vehicles

A Ukrainian tractor towing a captured Russian vehicle.

A Ukrainian tractor towing a captured Russian vehicle.

There is a running gag going around in the internet, that the largest weapons provider of the Ukrainian army is not the United States. In fact, it’s none other than their enemy, Russia. Such wartime humor has its basis though. Thanks to the Russian army’s habits of fleeing and leaving their equipment intact, the Ukrainian armed forces now have free tanks and vehicles literally coming to their midst. Footages of Ukrainian tractors towing tanks crowd the internet, earning Russia jeers and ridicule. And tanks aren’t just the harvest of the season. Much to the delights of the embattled Ukrainian troops, mobile air defenses, infantry fighting vehicles, and self-propelled artillery systems are also part of the freebies.

And allowing the enemy to capture military assets have serious implications.

Those vehicles aren’t just war trophy for Zelensky. They are refurbished to be used by his army to fight the invading Russians. Some vehicles, like the captured tanks in the Battle of Kyiv are given a quick coat of digital camouflage, and a Ukrainian flag. Others with slight damages are repaired to working conditions, while some are tweaked for upgrades. A good example is the Ural trucks (Tornado-U). In the hands of the Ukrainians, the trucks received extra weapon, like a Browning heavy machine gun. The armors of the captured armored personnel carriers on the other hand are reinforced, in addition to other upgrades, like thermal imaging system and satellite internet platform. And the Russian soldiers were kind enough to abandon their versatile MT-LB armored tractors, that the Ukrainians fitted with anti-aircraft autocannons.

Another benefactor is the United States, who acquired Russia’s captured vehicles and equipment for their “studies.”

Overall, it was a huge windfall for the Ukrainian army, whereas they once drove into battles in civilian vehicles. Now, they have fleets of “Russian lend-lease" military hardware to ride-on. But one might wonder, what was the Russians thinking when they abandoned a fully functional, and somewhat expensive assets for the Ukrainians to take?

Signs of Poor Planning

Ukraine's collection of captured vehicles. Source: https://news.yahoo.com/ukrainians-soldiers-are-refurbishing-abandoned-russian-tanks-and-trucks-191724346.html

Ukraine's collection of captured vehicles. Source: https://news.yahoo.com/ukrainians-soldiers-are-refurbishing-abandoned-russian-tanks-and-trucks-191724346.html

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In the western side, vehicles, and even wreckages of vehicles abandoned in enemy lines must be destroyed, to avoid falling to wrong hands. In this way, the enemy won’t benefit from captured technologies. In fact, there was a report that much of the military hardware left in Afghanistan were “demilitarized” so the Taliban can’t use it (though the Taliban lacked the knowledge to operate them in the first place).

The problem with the Russian army is that they never cared to destroy abandoned equipment. The majority of captured assets are fully useable, or damaged but repairable. As it turns out, the tanks being towed by Ukrainian farmers were indeed signs of a poorly orchestrated war.

Logistics is a major issue of the Russian army as soon as they staged their messed-up invasion. Simply, supplies can’t keep up with the paces of the army, and men and machine are fighting without provisions, as in the case of the Lost Russian Convoy of Kyiv. And as if the planning was bad enough, the Ukrainian troops are also threatening the supply lines with their ambushes. With supplies not reaching the troops, the machines ran out of fuel, hence the troops simply left them.

The Ukrainian army did report a decrease of abandoned vehicles after the failed Russian assault on Kyiv. But there is an increase after Kharkiv, much to the pleasure of the Ukrainian army.


The Weather and Lack of Discipline

A Russian tank stuck in the mud.

A Russian tank stuck in the mud.

The Russian war planners also failed to consider the effects of bad weather. The previous winter failed to fully froze the ground, and the result was a muddy terrain that trapped heavy vehicles. With the tanks and trucks stuck in the mud, the soldiers were seen fleeing and abandoning their intact vehicles. This was made worst when the seasonal thaw came, particularly in the north.

But perhaps, the biggest problem here is the Russian soldiers themselves.

Maybe, the war is beginning to take its toll on them. Or, the messy tactics are starting to go into their heads. But people reckoned that the Russian military training is flawed in some ways, and it failed to turn them into professional soldiers. Whatever the reason is, the Russian soldiers simply lacked the discipline and motivation to care, or repair for their vehicles.

And the Ukrainian army seems to take advantage of this.

The soldiers shall go out and will disable incoming Russian vehicles instead of destroying them. The less than passionate crew will then bail out, and leave their vehicles for the Ukrainian to take.

And all the Ukrainians have to do is to repair the damages, and they are good to go.

References

1. Weiss, Michael and Rushton, James (16 September 2022). "Ukrainian soldiers are refurbishing abandoned Russian tanks and trucks". Yahoo news.

2. Lendon, Brad (13 September 2022). "Weiss, Michael and Rushton, James (16 September 2022). "Ukrainian soldiers are refurbishing abandoned Russian tanks and trucks". cnn.com

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