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Russia/Ukraine: NATO satellite analysis suggest “little green tanks” came over the border from Russia

June 16, 2014

Summary: NATO satellite analysis suggest that the “little green tanks” did in fact recently come over the border from Russia

Some interesting unclassified imagery analysis from NATO suggesting very strongly that the three T-64 tanks that appeared in eastern Ukraine just before the weekend might indeed have originated from a Russian military staging area.

20140616, Ukraine Map, MBT movements

SHAPE, ACOThe imagery shows that on 30 May in Rostov-na-Donu, a Russian unit was deployed, but no tanks were present at the time the image was taken.  Imagery from the 6th of June shows the Russian unit departing, which we believe was part of a Russian announcement to pull troops back from the border region.  In the context of this overall withdrawal, 8 main battle tanks are shown to have arrived.  On the 11th of June, 10 main battle tanks can be seen at the site.  3 of these are parked, 4 are in the training area, and 3 are loaded heavy equipment transport trucks that are normally used to move tanks, likely indicating imminent movement by road.
On the 12th of June, Ukrainian officials report that 3 main battle tanks and several armoured vehicles crossed the border at the Dovzhanskyy border crossing, which was under the control of pro-Russian elements of the so-called “People’s Republic of Luhansk.”  Sightings of these tanks were later reported in open sources in Snizhne and then Makiivka, near Donetsk.  The tanks do not bear markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military.  In fact, they do not have markings at all, which is reminiscent of tactics used by Russian elements that were involved in destabilising Crimea…If these latest reports are confirmed, this would mark a grave escalation of the crisis in eastern Ukraine in violation of Russia’s Geneva commitments.

Rostov Military Staging Area, 11 June 2014, MBT activities


The NATO report highlights the absence of nationality, camouflage (Ukrainian T-64 main battle tanks have a distinctive pattern) and unit markings on the vehicles.   This was a “signature” of Russian operations associated with the Crimea.   Although Russia no longer officially operates T-64 tanks as they are quite out of date, they likely possess several thousand, of which many will still be workable.  No indication as to who has been operating the vehicles but three options suggest themselves: they are manned by Russian crews, separatists were trained in the staging area or they were handed over somewhere near the border to separatists who know how to use them.  The benefit of mass conscription means thousands of men in Ukraine know how to work them to a basic degree.  Handing over weapons systems that are instantly understood by separatists makes perfect sense.

But it is perhaps ironic that the goal of appearing anonymous should slowly start to work against “alleged” Russian activities.  The act of painting yourself a simple green colour, not communicating in any way and having no markings of any sort is slowly become a clearly recognisable “symbol” for Russia, more so than any flag.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. tom barnes permalink
    April 9, 2015 11:39 am

    Very interesting article, i wonder if you found some similar idea about Satellite Image Analysis in here

    • April 9, 2015 10:38 pm

      Hi Tom and thanks. Hadn’t got it specifically from there but it also looks interesting. Cheers

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