Russia claims it blew up advanced Ukrainian tank, but video shows its helicopter attacked a tractor

by Chloe Baker
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Russia revealed a fuzzy monochrome video this week, purporting to validate its assertion of decimating several of Ukraine’s most formidable tanks. However, The Big Big News’ visual inspection indicates that the clip depicts a tractor’s demolition.

On Monday, the Russian Embassy in Washington proclaimed via Twitter that Russian troops had “obliterated” eight Leopard tanks, produced in Germany and among the most potent armaments that NATO countries have supplied to Ukraine. Subsequently, the Russian Ministry of Defense uploaded a video on the Telegram social network on Tuesday. The attached caption purported to show the “annihilation of foreign armored vehicles, including Leopard tanks.”

The video, allegedly captured from a KA-52 Alligator attack helicopter’s thermal imaging system, was extensively broadcast by Russian state-controlled media. Several vehicle silhouettes are visible, followed by the launch of a guided missile from the helicopter that strikes one vehicle, causing an explosion. The recording features a voice affirming a “direct hit!” in Russian.

Earlier this year, Germany declared its intention to supply 18 Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine. Over the next year, Ukraine anticipates receiving approximately 100 such tanks, donated by various NATO countries. The Leopard 2 is renowned as one of the world’s most nimble and heavily armored battle tanks, boasting a 120mm gun capable of breaching Russia’s Soviet-era tanks from a distance exceeding 2.5 miles (4 kilometers), as per its manufacturer, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann.

Ukrainian officials refrained from commenting on the involvement of their Leopard tanks in recent combat.

Shortly after the Russian video’s online dissemination, numerous weapons experts and military bloggers began to question the assertion that the helicopter’s missile struck a tank, particularly a Leopard.

Visual analysis by the AP suggests that the video, recorded during nighttime, appears to show stationary large agricultural machinery, specifically a self-propelled sprayer and two corn and wheat combines.

The vehicle targeted by the Russian missile possesses four large wheels and is elevated above the ground, whereas Leopard 2 tanks are low-lying and treaded, akin to a bulldozer.

The Russian Embassy also declared this week that its troops had demolished three French-manufactured AMX-10 light tanks, which do indeed have wheels. However, the AMX-10 boasts six wheels, not four.

The silhouette of the vehicle destroyed in the video aligns more closely with a self-propelled sprayer, a tractor variant common in contemporary farming.

Thermal imaging systems, such as the one on the Russian helicopter, identify heat sources to target enemy tanks and trucks under smoky or low-light conditions. The stationary vehicles in the video appear black, indicative of cold engines.

Frontline tank crews typically conceal themselves in vegetation or behind structures, emerging only to mobilize and fire, two military vehicle experts informed the AP. Tanks being parked openly, rendering them easy targets, is highly unusual, they added.

Upon watching the Russian video, the two experts affirmed that the vehicle hit by the helicopter’s missile was neither a Leopard tank nor any other armored vehicle.

George Barros, who heads the Geospatial Intelligence Team for Russia and Ukraine at the Institute for the Study of War, noted that the silhouette of the object or vehicle was inconsistent with a Leopard tank’s expectations. He agreed that it was probably a piece of substantial farm machinery.

Valentin Châtelet, a research associate at The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, also confirmed that the video’s objects were definitely not Leopard tanks.

Châtelet, based in Brussels, stated that the thermal camera appeared to target three vehicles that resembled harvesters, and the initial target was probably a sprayer.

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