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"Russian Tanks" and Shoddy Journalism in Ukraine

Incendiary, unverified statements from western "journalists" have escalated the conflict in Donbass

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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 were Russian, as Ukraine’s tank building production collapsed post 1991 independence (Kharkov’s Malyshev factory produced 800 a year in the USSR but only around 10 a year in Post-Soviet Ukraine). Pictured here, a 1989 T72 from a Russian war museum:

What is being said 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, and to further provoke war.

<figcaption>Unlike the folks at Bellingcat, some people have actually been to Donbass...</figcaption>
Unlike the folks at Bellingcat, some people have actually been to Donbass...

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 back it up. In fact the claiming of Russian tanks, notably T-72 modifications, is common and an oft-debunked part of the Ukrainian strategy.

Things have happened to the media during the Donbass conflict. A reluctance of traditional western media to send their own correspondents to the heart of the action, 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 it by completely discrediting citizen ‘investigative journalism agency’ Bellingcat, under the headline "How These Adorable Puppies Exposed Russian Involvement in Ukraine".

On February 15th, near Debaltsevo, I was filming tanks, and both these outlets, as well as any number of Ukrainian media, gleefully seized on them as ‘Russian tanks’, pumped that information higher up the chain, and it was cited in Buzzfeed, albeit qualified with ‘claimed’.  Yet, still, the (mis)information put out there is circulated, shared and spread.  The original video is here, by the way:


The difference between a piece of information, and provocative war-mongering is responsible journalism. To pass off these claims as fact is a hugely irresponsible, morally reprehensible act. Something that could never be done by a real journalist.  So here’s 5 Reasons Why Real Journalists Wouldn’t Have Said ‘Russian Tanks’ –

1. Few journalists are real experts in tanks. Interpreter magazine  - not known for any military knowledge -  was insistent the tanks I filmed were T-72B3’s (a recent upgrade to the 44-year old Soviet T-72 model) –Gramtank

"These are Russian T-72B3 tanks."


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 Sosma-U and older sighting systems such as Buran-Catherine .

4. Even if it were Sosna-U, Belarusian in origin, but produced in Russia, it’s a small, easily-transportable piece of kit.



This video shows one of several sites in Donbass for repairing and modifying tanks; carrying out modifications of sighting systems and 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, in this case by the pro-Ukraine side, with everything possible done to make them stick.

In Ukraine’s tank arsenal were an estimated 600 plus T-72s.  Ukraine used to even trade them, selling 200 to Ethiopia in 2011, under President Yanukovych. This military blog from 2012 shows T72s being upgraded in Kiev.  Fullscreen capture 25032015 182316.bmp

Even if the tanks I filmed could be proven to be T-72B3s - something which could only be done by 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 during war-time, rather than prior to that, as the Yanukovych era was notable for the 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.

"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.  The author is 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 –

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