Military Capabilities

Russia moves heavy armour into Crimea

01 April 2014
Russian soldiers prepare to move a Russian T-72B tank at the Ostryakovo railway station not far from Simferopol, Crimea, on March 31. Source: Photographer/Credit: PA Photos

A Russian army armoured battalion has arrived in Crimea equipped with the first main battle tanks (MBT) to be deployed by Russia on the contested peninsula since the start of the stand-off between Moscow and Kiev last month.

The unit, which included more than 30 T-72 tanks, was shown to the international media being unloaded at a railway cargo yard near the large Russian air and logistical base at Gvardeyskoe on 31 March.

Two troop trains delivered the tanks to the base in central Crimea after they were transported to the peninsula from the Russian mainland via the roll-on roll-off rail ferry terminal at Kerch. The Russian military has been using this route as its main transhipment point for vehicles and cargo since the start of its Crimean operation on 27 February.

Up to this deployment, the Russian military had relied on wheeled armoured vehicles during its operation in the Crimea. The movement of the tank unit is thought to be part of a continuing build-up of forces to prevent any Ukrainian attempt to retake the peninsula. It is expected to move the unit up towards the new border with Ukraine, in the north of Crimea, to give Russian commanders more offensive and defensive options. The units deployed in this region up to now had been predominately equipped with wheeled BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers, backed up by 122mm and 152mm towed artillery.

This reinforcement will also allow the Russian airborne forces and naval infantry units, which spearheaded the initial Russian operation, to be pulled back from duty in Crimea and reconstituted for future operations.

Social network imagery has also emerged showing the deployment of a Russian S-300 battery protecting Gvardeyskoe airbase in Crimea on 30 March. The imagery, which includes a number of distinctive geographic features specific to the base, shows eight S-300PMU launcher erector vehicles, positioned in the northern edge of the airfield, supported by a number of command vehicles, as well as 30N6E1 Tomb Stone and 5N63S Flap Lid B radars.

The radars are positioned to scan in a northerly direction to detect a possible Ukrainian air attack on the air base. IHS Jane's satellite imagery analysis detected elements of a S-300PM brigade on railway cars after being unloaded at the Kerch ferry terminal on 13 March but it is unclear if this is the unit that was eventually deployed to protect Gvardeyskoe airbase.

Also pictured at the base are two Pantsir-S1 point gun/missile combined air defence systems, suggesting a layered air defence capability has been put in place to protect it.

The deployment of the additional Russian capabilities in Crimea comes as international tension over the fate of Eastern Ukraine continues to run high.

(447 words)
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