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Footage has emerged on social media showing 1950s-vintage T-54/55 main battle tanks (MBTs) being transported by rail from Russia’s Far East, suggesting Moscow might be having to dig deep into its stored reserves to replenish battlefield losses in Ukraine.

According to a 21 March 2023 posting by the exiled Russian open-source Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), which is the source of the reporting, “the filmed train has recently departed from the town of Arsenyev, Primorsky region, where the 1295th Central Tank Repair and Storage Base is located”. 

According to CIT research, the Arsenyev base has relatively modern T-80BV and T-72B MBTs, a significant amount of old T-62M(V) tanks, as well as the T-54/55s.

CIT noted that it had already documented shipments of T-62M(V) MBTs from Arsenyev; indeed, as of 22 March 2023 the Oryx blog, which details visually verifiable equipment losses in Ukraine, lists Russia as having lost 73 T-62 variants in Ukraine, mostly T-62Ms. However, this is the first time that evidence has emerged that Russia is bringing T-54/55s back into service.

The Russian Army appears to be resurrecting obsolete tanks for use in Ukraine such as this T-55. (Photo: uk:User:Gutsul)

By contrast, there is no sign of Russia’s latest MBT, the T-14 Armata, beyond parades in Red Square since 2015. In 2016 the Russian Ministry of Defence announced that it had signed a contract for a test batch of 100 T-14 Armatas to be delivered by 2020, but modernisation of Russia’s current tank inventory subsequently took precedence, while Western sanctions imposed against Russia since its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent invasion of Ukraine may have thwarted T-14 production in areas such as electro-optics.

The first prototype of the T-54 was produced in 1945, although the T-54/55s seen leaving Arsenyev probably date from the 1950s/1960s and Russia’s T-54/55s will have been upgraded a number of times throughout their services lives. Nevertheless, these are MBTs that would have been out of date in the 1980s and will be no match for even some of the older MBTs being gifted to Ukraine. 

Peter Felstead