KYIV, Ukraine – A study of the weapons and ammunition used in the war in Ukraine shows that Russia has systematically fueled the conflict with arms deliveries, according to a new report funded by the European Union and the German government.
The study is not the first to reach this conclusion: the United States and European countries have sanctioned Russia for years for transfers of arms to separatist forces that they support Moscow supports in Ukraine.
But the study is one of the most comprehensive to date on the issue. While unlikely to change the bigger picture, he offered an accurate view of illicit arms transfers to Ukraine and illustrated the scale of the arms trade that fuels the only active war in the country. ‘Europe.
Previous analyzes of Russian arms transfers to Ukraine have relied on photographs or government intelligence. The new report focused on actual armaments.
Researchers studied dozens of rifles, grenade launchers, antiaircraft missiles fired from the shoulder and thousands of cartridges taken from captured or killed separatist fighters or from positions they had occupied.
Researchers examined the recovered weapons and traced serial numbers and other identifying marks back to the manufacturers. It provided “a window into a largely forgotten conflict which, since the start of 2014, has persisted on the borders of Europe,” according to the report.
Entitled “Weapons of war in Ukraine”, the report states that the separatist forces “are more than militias armed with weapons inherited from the former Soviet Union; on the contrary, they imitate modern armies and follow established military doctrine.
The war, which unfolded along an approximately 280-mile-long trench line that crosses the plains of eastern Ukraine, began after street protesters toppled a pro-Ukrainian president -Russian in 2014. Russia responded with a military intervention that it has never recognized.
The Kremlin has consistently denied transferring weapons to Ukraine, even after Western governments documented major weapons crossing the border. This included a tracked vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft missile system that downed a civilian airliner in 2014, killing all 298 people on board. Russian officials blamed Western governments for fomenting the conflict with military support to the Ukrainian government, including the US supply of Javelin anti-tank missiles and Turkey’s supply of armed Bayraktar drones, used for the first time in a conflict last month.
The conflict sounded alarm bells again this fall. Commercial satellite photographs and videos posted on social media showed Russian tanks and other armored vehicles near the Ukrainian border, raising fears of a direct invasion.
And the volume of arms transfers to proxy forces already in Ukraine described in the new report highlights the volatility of the situation. The study, conducted by Conflict Armament Research, a UK-based gun tracing company, was funded by the European Union and the German Federal Foreign Office.
The study focused largely on small arms, the most basic but often the deadliest weapons in wars, even when more sophisticated armaments are used, as is the case in Ukraine.
The study found that weapons that the researchers said could come from nowhere but Russian military arsenals. He found, for example, several types of grenade launchers, sniper rifles and landmines that had never been in service with the Ukrainian army and therefore could not have been captured and used by the armies. separatists. Specialized weapons have also appeared. Researchers say they have documented a Russian-made “anti-manipulation” device, or trap, that can be placed under a landmine to trigger when someone tries to disarm the mine.
More subtle evidence also indicated that the separatists had direct support from Russia.
Kalashnikov rifles found in the illicit small arms trade in conflicts in the developing world, where they are the daily weapon of many militant groups, are typically assembled from parts from multiple guns, the report notes. Incompatible serial numbers on components are common. But that was not the case in eastern Ukraine, according to the report: the rifles had matching parts, suggesting a more direct route from the factory to the battlefield.
The study traced 4,793 rounds of small arms ammunition and 43 weapons recovered from battlefields from 2014 to 2019. Analysts traced ammunition using “punches” or stamped marks surrounding the primers on cartridge cases, and guns by serial number. The Russian government and Russian arms manufacturers did not respond to requests for comment from researchers.
Although in a clinical tone, the report hinted at the grim human drama behind the items under investigation.
A rifle that belonged to a separatist soldier, for example, arrived in front of British researchers still tied with a ribbon bearing Orthodox Christian prayers for protection.
The study of the bullets painted a more nuanced picture of the supply. The entire sample of small arms ammunition had been manufactured at sites in what is now Russia, the researchers said. The prevalence of a caliber of ammunition used in Kalashnikovs only after 1974 suggested a more modern arsenal. But much of it had been in storage for years, leaving its provenance uncertain.
The bullets examined in the study were made over a 65-year period, the oldest being a cartridge for a Kalashnikov made in 1948, just a year after the rifle was introduced in the Soviet Union.