There are a lot of unfortunate tasks for Russian soldiers in Ukraine these days. But few are more unlucky than a place with the 90th Panzer Division, a formation with a recent history of repeated decisive defeats.
The 90th TD, with its three tank regiments and one motorized infantry regiment, has on paper nearly 300 T-72 tanks, plus BMP-2 and BTR-82 fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery, all manned by about 10,000 men.
Conceptually, it is a powerful unit. In practice, it mostly went from disaster to disaster in Ukraine. More recently, several battalion tactical groups from the division deployed around Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine in an unsuccessful effort to halt a determined Ukrainian counteroffensive that began on 6 September.
It was not long before battalions of the 90th TD joined the wider Russian retreat from the Kharkiv region – a retreat that arguably reshaped the 200-day war.
But this was not the first disgrace to befall the division, usually based in Chebarkul in southwestern Russia. In early March, the 90th TD was part of a Russian offensive to capture Kyiv and dismantle the Ukrainian government.
On the evening of March 9, a column of the 90th TD – dozens of T-72s, BMPs and BTRs in straight lines – rolled into the city of Brovary, which is adjacent to Kiev on the left bank of the Dnieper River.
Ukrainian artillery targeted the vehicles at the front and rear of the column, several of them hitting and forcing the Russians to retreat. Fighting raged for three weeks around Brovary until the 90th TD joined the rest of the Russian forces in a hasty retreat from the vicinity of Kiev. One of the commanders of the 90th TD regiment is said to have died in the long battle.
In the months between Kyiv and Kharkiv, the 90th TD acquired a handful of Russia’s rarest and finest BMP-T combat vehicles and fought alongside airborne forces around the city of Lysychansk in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The fighting in Donbass is the brightest chapter in the tragic recent history of the 90th TD.
With his retreat from Kharkiv, the 90th TD in Ukraine now has a one-for-three record. One somewhat successful campaign and two decidedly unsuccessful ones.
It’s not alone, of course. The 3rd Army Corps – a reserve formation made up of middle-aged men, drunkards and ex-prisoners – had its baptism of fire in the vicinity of Kharkiv and too he got spanked so zero for one.
Of course, better units with better records also suffered humiliation when a dozen eager Ukrainian brigades broke through Russian lines east of Kharkiv last week. The 1st Guards Tank Army, arguably the best of the conventional Russian formations, lost half of its T-80 tanks in the counteroffensive.