Last week former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly offered insight to Russian soldiers on the ways that they could sabotage their T-72 main battle tanks (MBTs). The T-72, which was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, remains the most widely-employed tank currently in service with the Russian military in Ukraine. A true product of traditional Soviet design philosophy, it only featured entirely new components when necessary. The result was a tank that could be described as far more ‘evolutionary’ than ‘revolutionary.’ A total of 17,831 of the original T-72 series tanks were produced in the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1990.
The Russian Army subsequently operates around 9,000 of the aging T-72s.
The Ukrainian forces have been successful in destroying vast numbers of the Russian tanks by using modern anti-tank weapons including the U.S.-made Javelin and British NLAW, but there have also been reports that Russian soldiers have also purposely damaged or destroyed their own MBTs.
In a series of tweets, Kelly, who served as commander of the International Space Station and has been an outspoken of critic of the Russian government and its invasion of Ukraine, offered several tips on “How to Sabotage Your Russian Tank: Instructions for Beginners.”
Kelly had reportedly been instructed on the best ways to sabotage the T-72 MBT from Lt. General Mark Hertling, United States Army (retired). Gen. Hertling, who had previously served as the commander of U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army was also a veteran tanker, shared an English version of the instructions.
In one of the tweets Hertling recommended, “Put a white flag on the turret, turn the gun tube to the rear and point it skyward, and drive toward Ukrainian lines. That’s the universal sign among tankers to surrender.”
Twitter has made no effort to remove the tweets, even as it included instructions on how to disable military equipment – and could be applied to other vehicles.
“There is a theory that this is dangerous speech, but that legal theory only applies if it could incite violence in the United States. From a legal definition, it isn’t dangerous speech. However, it may result in a response from Moscow that impacts Putin’s foreign policy. In that way, it may be unwise speech,” explained Matthew J. Schmidt, PhD, associate professor of national security and political science at the University of New Haven.
In that sense it may not be that much different from how Sen. Lindsey Graham called for Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s assassination on social media in early March, soon after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
“Absolutely, this type of commentary may be going too far,” suggested Schmidt. “These comments aren’t part of foreign policy, but are tactical advice.”
The question is then whether Twitter, and for that matter any of the other social platforms, has any obligation to police such content?
“Twitter will claim that it isn’t a journalistic organization and doesn’t have the same ethical requirement to police content that could harm the national security in the way that Forbes or The New York Times are required to do,” added Schmidt. “Twitter will say it doesn’t have that requirement, as its news providers are infinite and its editors are not.”
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