Russia Has A Plan For Pinning Down Ukraine’s Super-Upgraded M-55S Tanks

The Ukrainian army’s new 47th Assault Brigade is up-armoring its super-upgraded, ex-Slovenian M-55S tanks as the unit apparently prepares to reinforce Ukrainian positions along the border with Russia north of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine.

And that’s probably exactly what the Kremlin hopes the brigade will do. It seems apparent that the Russian and Belarusian militaries are signaling possible offensives into northern Ukraine specifically to fix in place Ukrainian forces in the region—and prevent these same forces from fighting elsewhere.

Photos that circulated online on Tuesday depict some of the 28 M-55Ss in training, apparently somewhere in cold, muddy Kharkiv Oblast. Slovenia donated the 1960s-vintage T-55s, with their upgraded engines and British-made L7 guns, back in the fall.

The new photos reveal recent additions to the M-55Ss: explosive reactive armor and slat armor on the hulls.

By last month it was clear which Ukrainian brigade had taken on the M-55s, which with their 60-year-old basic components are some of the oldest armored vehicles in the Russia-Ukraine war. The M-55Ss equip a battalion belonging to the 47th Assault Brigade, an all-volunteer unit that formed as a battalion back in the spring and, over the summer, expanded into a full brigade with around 2,000 troops and a strong roster of non-commissioned officers.

The 47th Assault Brigade stood up in Kharkiv. It’s training around Kharkiv. And every indication is that once the brigade finishes training and outfitting its vehicles, it will deploy north into the 25-mile-deep sector between Kharkiv and the Russian border.

There, the 47th Assault Brigade will join a growing defensive force including three territorial brigades and a contingent of federal border guards. The active army’s 40th Artillery Brigade supports the line brigades and their thousands of infantry.

Similar defensive formations are concentrating farther west in the sector north of Kyiv. Eleven months after Russian field armies barreled into Ukraine across the country’s northern borders, the Ukrainian army is reinforcing the same border regions.

It’s not for no reason that Ukraine is surging forces northward. Both Belarus and Russia have shifted battalions in their own border regions, vaguely threatening to launch fresh offensives into Ukraine as early as this winter, once the muddy ground freezes and large-scale maneuver is possible.

The signals began this fall, just six weeks after a Ukrainian offensive cleared Russian troops from Kharkiv Oblast—and six months after an earlier Ukrainian offensive booted the Russians from the oblast around Kyiv.

Indeed, the Ukrainian operations apparently are the whole point. The Kremlin might not be serious about a new offensive. But it’s desperate to prevent, or at least undermine, Kyiv’s own next offensive.

Having lost a hundred thousand men killed or wounded in Ukraine since February, Russia this fall didn’t have a lot of forces to spare. But it deployed enough of them to Belarus to send a message. “The Kremlin may seek to use additional Russian forces in Belarus to fix Ukrainian forces near Kyiv and prevent their redeployment elsewhere to participate in counteroffensives,” the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C. reported in mid-October.

A few weeks later, something similar happened farther east around Belgorod, in southern Russia across the border from Kharkiv. “Russian forces conducted a limited assault northeast of Kharkiv city likely in an ongoing effort to conduct reconnaissance-in-force and fix Ukrainian forces at the international border in Kharkiv Oblast,” ISW explained in early December.

Maybe the Russians can’t always, or often, beat the Ukrainians in a straight-up fight. But they at least can pin the Ukrainians down with feints in order to avoid fighting them.

The 47th Assault Brigade with its newly up-armored M-55S is just one of the Ukrainian units the Russians are fixing in place for possible defensive action in the north, thus preventing them from taking part in possible offensive action anywhere else.

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