Study confirms that Russia is pouring military equipment and arms to Donbas militants
Conflict Armament Research, an independent body probing weapon supplies to armed conflicts, has carried out a study of the weapons; ammunition; vehicles; armour and artillery used by the Russian-controlled armed formations in Donbas. Its findings in Weapons of the War in Ukraine will come as no surprise to those following Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine, but they are nonetheless of importance and provide incriminating evidence, not least for Ukraine’s inter-state proceedings against Russia in international courts.
Russia has consistently denied being a party to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and claimed that the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ [D/LPR] ‘arose’ out of a local uprising against a supposedly illegal government in Kyiv. The Russian fighters whose presence cannot be denied are invariably described as ‘volunteers’ and assistance to the ‘DPR / LPR armed formations’ claimed to be of a ‘humanitarian’ nature. During one of the preliminary hearings in Ukraine’s case against Russia at the UN’s International Court of Justice, a Russian representative claimed that the main source for the vast amounts of weapons and ammunition used by the armed formations “are stockpiles inherited by Ukraine in 1991 from the Soviet Army”, as well as “the retreating Ukrainian army”.
This is categorically not what Conflict Armament Research [CAR] found during its three-year study carried out with funding from both the EU and the German Federal Foreign Office. Of the almost five thousand rounds of ammunition which CAR documented between 2018 and 2021, the majority had been produced in Russian Federation factories, as had 41 of the 43 weapons they examined. “A significant proportion of the items” had been produced after the collapse of the USSR (and were thus not ‘Soviet stockpiles”.
The researchers also provide grounds for concluding that the weapons themselves, or component parts of them, were not parts of “extra-regional supply chains”. There was also little evidence of components being mixed, with the small arms and their main component parts having matching serial numbers. This, CAR writes, suggests “a short chain of custody between the point at which weapons left a production facility or military inventory and use by the armed formations”.
The researchers found constant efforts to obliterate marks that would identify the country of manufacture (or evidence of the precise point of diversion, were this the case). They noted that some marks on rocket launchers had been left intact, and believe this was to enable the users to maintain inventories (while, presumably, removing the incriminating identifying features). The study notes that the methods for obliterating the details were not consistent, and suggest that either different users decided how to do this, or that the method developed over time “in response to increased scrutiny”.
Such increased scrutiny, we might add, was almost certainly the reason why the Russian Defence Ministry first ‘discouraged’ its soldiers from using social media, then moved to ban any such use altogether. The law which Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into force on 6 March 2019 was evidently aimed at preventing military personnel from exposing Russia’s undeclared military engagement in Ukraine and other countries. Had it been in force in July 2014, Russia might have succeeded in concealing the information used to establish the transportation of the BUK missile launcher from a military site in Kursk (Russia) to territory under the armed formations where it was used to down Malaysian airliner MH17, killing 298 adults and children.
The CAR findings also point to EU sanction evasion, with equipment, such as a Russian manufactured unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) having components manufactured in EU states.
“Opaque licensing requirements for dual-use components, combined with a lack of clarity over the ultimate end use or end user of components, appear to facilitate the integration of key EU-made technology into Russian military UAVs, despite an EU arms embargo that was imposed on the Russian Federation in 2014.”
On the basis of their three-year-long field investigation into material recovered from the self-styled ‘republics’, the authors reach damning conclusions. They write that:
“The evidence confirms that factories based in what is today the Russian Federation produced most of the militias’ ammunition and nearly all their weapons, from assault rifles and precision rifles, grenade launchers, precision-guided munitions, and landmines to anti-tank guided weapons. The findings also indicate that these armed formations field weapons previously captured by Russian forces, such as Polish anti-aircraft missiles seized in Georgia in 2008. In addition, the militias deploy a fleet of Russian-made drones in Ukraine. Russian forces have used similar drones within the territory of EU member states, such as Lithuania and Poland. Russian entities acquired British, Czech, French, German, Spanish, and US-made components for use in the manufacture of these drones. CAR’s analysis and tracing efforts reveal that independent Russian electronics and component distributors acquired such foreign technology on behalf of sanctioned Russian defence and security entities.”
As mentioned, none of this can be called ‘breaking news’, but such a detailed study by researchers experienced in tracking weapons and their sources is, seemingly, a first. The findings also corroborate earlier reports, including those undertaken within the framework of the investigation into MH17, by the Joint Investigation Team and the Dutch Prosecutor. The latter’s findings, presented in detail during the trial now underway of three Russian ‘former’ FSB or Military Intelligence officers and one Ukraine over MH17, demonstrate the degree to which the armed formations took their orders from Moscow and Russian state bodies.
The European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber decided in November 2020 to combine Ukraine’s inter-state case against the Russian Federation over its actions in eastern Ukraine with two other cases, most importantly, that brought by the Netherlands against Russia over MH17. The Grand Chamber hearing in Ukraine and the Netherlands v. Russia is scheduled for 24 November 2021.
Russia’s involvement is also part of what should become an International Criminal Court investigation. Russia is also presently using all means to drag out the International Court of Justice’s examination of Ukraine’s inter-state case against Russia over alleged violation of two UN conventions - the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination The first of these specifically refers to Russia’s support for the illegal armed formations in Donbas, including through the weapons and equipment documented in the Conflict Armament Research report.
It should also be noted that the Russian militant leaders who brought war to Donbas have a penchant for giving interviews and writing ‘memoirs’ in which they make it clear enough who they answered to; why the armed formations were not defeated in the summer of 2014 and other incriminating details. See, for example,: