In what could be described as “wishful” thinking, videos and photos purporting to show the destruction of German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) in Ukraine continue to circulate on social media this week.
It was on Tuesday that Russian state media outlet Ria Novosti published video footage on the social messaging platform Telegram that it said confirmed that a number of the advanced tanks—considered by military analysts to be among the best in service today—had come under fire.
Viewers on social media quickly debunked the claims, noting that the vehicles were actually farm harvesters.
Destroyed Leopard 2?
However, pro-Kremlin propagandists have continued to share videos across social media in an effort to “prove” Moscow’s claims that a number of the tanks have been destroyed in what is believed to be the opening stages of Kyiv’s long-anticipated spring offensive in the Zaporizhzhia Region.
One recent example showing the alleged destruction of a Leopard 2 was posted to Twitter on Thursday morning by @WarMonitors. In the 38-second-long clip, recorded by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, a number of armored vehicles can be seen coming under fire. At least one appears to have been disabled in the fighting.
UkraineWeaponsTracker (@UAWeapons) also shared the video, claiming, “#Ukraine: For the first time, a Ukrainian Leopard 2A4 tank was destroyed by the Russian army during the recent Ukrainian attack near Novopokrovka, #Zaporizhzhia Oblast.”
The truth certainly has been a casualty in the ongoing conflict, and both Kyiv and Moscow continue to make claims about the losses of the other side. However, Russia has long employed disinformation campaigns, while releasing highly edited videos that have often been presented out of context.
Though the videos shared on Thursday were more convincing than the footage of the “farm harvester” from earlier in the week, it is hard to confirm that it was a Leopard 2, or other Western MBT, that came under fire and was destroyed.
“I have watched and re-watched the video, and at best, can say that the clip is spliced together showing two different events: First an indirect fire barrage on what appears to be a column of armored personnel carriers (APCs) and armor; and second, a burning vehicle somewhat distant from that column of APCs and armor. Whether it is a Leopard 2 or not, is not obvious,” explained military vehicles historian John Adams-Graf, editor of History in Motion, the magazine of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.
Facts On The Leopard 2
The third-generation Leopard 2 was developed by Krauss-Maffei in the 1970s and it replaced the Leopard 1 as the West German Army’s primary MBT in 1979. It continues to be employed by the armed forces of Germany and has been exported to several NATO allies, as well as to the nations of Chile, Indonesia, and Singapore.
It was in January that Berlin announced it would allow Leopard 2s in service with other European nations to be re-exported to aid Ukraine, while Germany later agreed to supply Kyiv with a number of the tanks as well.
Despite its reputation for being among the very best MBTs in service, it isn’t indestructible of course.
One took significant damage while another was destroyed in Afghanistan – victims of Taliban IEDs (improvised explosive devices). In addition, at least three and perhaps more in operation with the Turkish military have been destroyed or heavily damaged fighting ISIS forces in Syria.
Misunderstandings In The Fog Of War
It is worth noting that the “fog of war” can further confuse matters, which make it hard to confirm if any Leopard 2 tanks have actually destroyed. Such is the case today with Russian soldiers, but also with those armchair experts who are relying on grainy footage taken by a drone.
Even those on the ground in wartime may not know what they’re seeing.
“During World War II, most American GIs that encountered a German tank in combat declared it was a ‘Tiger’ whether it was a Pzkw. III, IV, Panther, or something else,” added Adams-Graf.
“Tiger” became a good catch-all term among American soldiers as it sounded downright frightening. It was Nazi Germany’s heaviest tank, and viewers of the film Fury will understand why it was so feared.
“Perhaps, we are experiencing that same phenomenon: Every burning Ukraine vehicle is now a ‘Leopard,'” Adams-Graf continued. “Regardless, with the prevalent use of deepfake videos, it will be hard for anyone to verify combat results unless they were standing in the midst of the action.”
And that is a good point.
Video editing is simpler than ever—while even some video game footage has already been passed off as being recorded in Ukraine. So until footage from the ground is presented of a destroyed Leopard 2, it is impossible to say for sure if any of the big cats have actually been put down.
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