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Russia restores Soviet T-34 tanks retrieved from Laos


AFP Strelna (Russia)
Thirty Soviet tanks of a type that became legendary in World War II are being restored to their original state in Russia after making an epic tropical journey from the southeast Asian state of Laos.
Some of the 30 T-34 tanks were still in use by the armed forces of the Communist state when Russia became aware of their existence and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu agreed their handover while visiting Laos last year.
More than 200 engineers and mechanics are now working on the khaki-painted tanks at a specialised repair factory just outside the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg.
Due to be fully restored by late March, they will roll across Red Square on May 9 in a special extended military parade to mark 75 years since the Allied victory over the Nazis, watched by world leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron.
The tanks sent from Laos were built in the 1950s in Soviet-bloc Czechoslovakia.
Laos reportedly acquired them in 1987 from Communist ally Vietnam, where they were used in the war with the United States.
The powerful and manoeuvrable T-34 tanks were a Soviet workhorse and particularly significant for their role in World War II, with more than 58,000 built between 1940 and 1946, and seen as key in the USSR's military defeat of Nazi Germany.
"The T-34 was the weapon of victory, the main weapon that helped us to conquer our enemy," said Roman Chepurnov, director of Tank Repair Factory No 61, part of the Uralvagonzavod group that makes tanks and armoured vehicles.
Now, though, they are a rarity in Russia, since many were remodelled after World War II or scrapped.
That is why Russia decided to transport them by sea to the far eastern city of Vladivostok and then across the breadth of Russia by train.
When they arrived, "their technical condition was really lamentable" and workers even found bird's nests in them, said Chepurnov.
Laos acquired modern tanks from Russia as part of a military deal.
Russia, which over the last years has placed ever greater emphasis on the importance of the Soviet victory in World War II, wants the T-34 tanks to show in parades, museums and also for making war films.
Still revered today, the model featured in a patriotic action film called "T-34" that was a box office hit last year.
Another film, "Tanks," released in 2018, told the story of the engineer who developed the tank, Mikhail Koshkin.
Koshkin and his team drove more than 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) across the country in two prototypes in spring 1940, months before the Nazi invasion, to demonstrate to Stalin the superiority of their design.
The role of the Soviet Union in World War II victory over the Nazis is an immense source of pride in Russia and the Kremlin makes it the centrepiece of patriotic campaigns.
In recent months, Russia has wrangled with Poland and Ukraine over their role in the war while they accuse Russia of ignoring the 1939 Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact.

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First Published: Feb 27 2020 | 8:26 PM IST

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