In early November, Conflict Armament Research (CAR) investigative organization published a study on the origin of the small weapons and ammunition used in hostilities in the east of Ukraine. This study was carried out with the support of the European Union and the German government. The authors indicate that the project lasted for 3 years.
The New York Times called this study “one of the most comprehensive to date on the issue… offering a fine-grained view of illicit weapons transfers in Ukraine and illustrating the scope of the arms trade that is fueling Europe’s only active war.”
In this feature we will take a high-level look into the content of the CAR report, offer our view on the implications of its findings, as well as correlate the methodology and focus of our British colleagues with those of InformNapalm international volunteer community.
Methodology of the Conflict Armament Research
In the conclusion of the report CAR researchers stated that efforts to verify claims on the armament supplies to the conflict zone in the east of Ukraine have so far relied largely on examinations of open-source photos and videos of weapons and ammunition, rather than systematic field-based investigations. To fill this evidentiary gap, CAR undertook a three-year field investigation of materiel recovered from the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).
In line with the general approach of the CAR investigations, this study was mainly focused on tracing the origin of small arms and ammunition seized by the Ukrainian forces during the hostilities in the east of Ukraine. The highly granular and painstaking study of thousands of ammunition rounds, dozens of firearms and grenade launchers took practically a forensic approach – showing detailed scaled photographs and describing all markings and other particularities of every item studied. Researchers endeavored to trace every item to the factory of origin and establish its production date.
The report also contains a relatively modest section containing photos of several Russian trucks and combat vehicles, documenting obliterated side numbers, painted over tactical markings, and in some cases years of production.
Heavy weapons and modern types of Russian military equipment were not traced in this report.
The researchers managed to trace 41 types of small arms and thousands of rounds to the factories of origin, which in the overwhelming majority of cases are located in Russia. Tracing requests were sent to the relevant authorities and companies in many countries, but most importantly in Ukraine and Russia. The team received full cooperation from the Ukrainian side, but got no response from the Russian side.
Differences between InformNapalm and CAR methodology and approach
The most important methodological difference is that InformNapalm uses open-source intelligence (OSINT), whereas CAR uses the data from open sources only occasionally, preferring to work hands-on with the material evidence available.
In the introduction to the report, CAR states that Ukraine has been fighting against “separatist elements” in the Donbas referred to as “armed formations”. CAR stops short of giving any political assessment to its findings, being constrained by the scope and format of its research. We at InformNapalm international volunteer community, do not have these constraints, and take a different approach to the nature of the conflict. We have firm grounds to believe that Ukraine is facing the hybrid aggression of the Russian Federation, whereas local separatists in the Donbas are nothing but collaborators of an aggressor state, and “certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions” as well as Crimea are parts of Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia.
The CAR activity is focused mostly on the small arms and the origin of these arms in terms of their production. On the other hand, InformNapalm community took a conscious early decision to focus on the types of heavy and technologically advanced military equipment (artillery, main battle tanks, electronic warfare and drone systems, combat and transport vehicles, etc.) which are not in service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other security forces, but is (or was) in service with the Russian Army. We believe that the presence of this kind of equipment in the territory of Ukraine proves beyond reasonable doubt the participation of the Russian Federation as an aggressor state in the armed conflict in the East of Ukraine. InformNapalm also pays particular attention to the cadre Russian military personnel operating this equipment and weaponry on the Ukrainian territory.
Taking these differences into account, we tried to analyze the findings presented in the CAR report.
Notable findings of the CAR report and implications they carry
- The arsenal of the “armed formations” that was traced or mentioned in the CAR report includes assault and marksman rifles, grenade and rocket launchers, precision-guided munitions, landmines, anti-tank guided weapons (ATGW), man-portable, air defense systems (MANPADS), armored personnel carriers (APC), main battle tanks (MBT), and UAVs. This is an impressive range of armament which is hardly possible to amass as the booty of war “captured by the Donbas militia” in combat against the regular Armed Forces of Ukraine.
- Factories in the territory of the modern-day Russian Federation manufactured the absolute majority of the rounds of ammunition and 41 out of 43 firearms documented in the report. Significant proportion of the items recovered was manufactured after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Ukrainian competent authorities in their official replies to tracing requests from CAR concerning practically all of the documented small arms confirmed that the items were not in service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, nor were recorded as stolen, lost or written-off, nor were transferred to any other military units. Collectively, these findings prove that the weapons in question could not have been captured in battle from the Ukrainian units or “found in the coal mines of the Donbas”.
- CAR researchers also sent tracing requests to the Russian competent authorities and factories, making a bona-fide effort at giving Russia a chance to respond to well-documented and politically neutral requests, and prove that it is not a side of the armed conflict in Ukraine. They received no response from the Russian side. In our view, Russia’s failure to respond is another piece of evidence of its direct participation in the war against Ukraine, more telling than any direct political accusation.
- The report notes strong prevalence of 5.45 × 39 mm caliber assault rifles and light machine guns, compared to the more obsolete 7.62 × 39 mm caliber. This comes in strong contrast with the findings of CAR in other regions (89.47% of 5.45 caliber weapons in the Ukraine war, as compared to roughly 5% in conflicts in Asia and Africa). Nine of the 20 weapon models documented in Ukraine have never been documented by CAR anywhere else. These include a 9 × 39 mm VSS designated marksman rifle and a 12.7 × 108 mm ASVK anti-materiel rifle, manufactured in 2013. CAR found no evidence of supply connections with other conflicts. Unlike those conflicts, the one in Ukraine does not appear to be dependent on extra-regional supply chains. All of these weapons were produced in Russia, whereas VSS and ASVK rifles are army-issue weapons in service with the Russian Army and special operations forces, they are not commercially available. Both VSS and ASVK were also documented by InformNapalm. These findings disprove Russian propaganda narrative about the “military surplus shop” as the source of supplies for the armed formations operating in the Donbas.
- Most documented small arms have matching serial numbers on their main components, indicating that the components are original and were not taken from other weapons. This suggests a short chain of custody between the point at which weapons left a production facility or military inventory. It looks like the reference of the New York Times journalist to “arms trade” in this conflict is off the mark. These two findings strongly suggest that the small arms were supplied directly from the Russian military warehouses.
- CAR observed systematic obliteration of primary identifying marks on certain types of weapons, ammunition, vehicles and UAVs with the intention to hinder attribution and traceability, conceal evidence of the precise point of diversion or to mask the country of manufacture. Specifically, marks were obliterated e.g. on about two-thirds of the RPO-A and all of the MRO-A disposable rocket launchers, on multiple electronic components of the Orlan-10 and Eleron-SV UAVs, side numbers were scraped off the BMD combat vehicle (not in operation with the Ukrainian Army), identifying marks were erased from the MON-50 landmines, etc. CAR notes that the approach to removing identifying marks evolved over time, in response to increased scrutiny. Consistent efforts to obliterate serial numbers and other positively identifying marks are well in line with the widely exposed Russian information strategy of plausible deniability, proving once again the hybrid nature of the war waged by Russia against Ukraine.
- Although members of the Russian armed formations in Ukraine and their suppliers obliterated some of the marks, they purposefully left others intact. The residual marks, such as secondary serial or lot numbers enabled users to maintain inventories. This method suggests that the suppliers and the end users of these weapons apply recordkeeping and inventory management processes in line with an established military doctrine, and that they operate within a larger, centralized logistics structure. The context of the CAR report as well as findings of InformNapalm and other OSINT groups make it abundantly clear that these are the Russian Army’s doctrine and logistics structure.
- Landmines earned a small section of their own in the report. CAR documented five landmine models: the MON-50, the OZM-72, the PMN-2, the POM-2, and the TM-62M. All of them are of Russian origin; most were made in the post-soviet times. Four types are anti-personnel mines banned by the Ottawa Convention which was ratified by Ukraine, but not by Russia. Ukraine is still in the process of disposing of its anti-personnel landmines. The Ukrainian Army does not use anti-personnel landmines, but the Russian Army does.
- CAR noted that the armed formations deploy a fleet of Russian-made military UAVs in Ukraine, having documented Orlan-10, Eleron-3SV, Granat-2, Zastava, and a UAV of unknown designation resembling the Orlan-10 family. InformNapalm documented the four identified UAV types, as well as four more in its materials. We also wrote about the unidentified UAV. Apart from being used in Ukraine, the same mysterious UAV was shot down over Turkey where it was apparently operated by the Russian forces deployed in Syria. CAR reports that Russian forces used the same unidentified UAVs over the territory of EU member states, such as Lithuania and Poland, having launched them from the territory of Belarus. Military organizations of Lithuania, Turkey and Ukraine could not identify the type of this UAV, noting that it is a very recent and secret development of the Russian military industry. Collectively, the findings of CAR and InformNapalm strongly suggest that the advanced and expensive Russian aerial reconnaissance equipment in Ukraine is not operated by “separatist rebels”, but rather by professional Russian military men.
- The section of the CAR report devoted to the UAVs also highlighted an important issue of foreign, and namely EU, military and dual-use technology making its way into the documented Russian drones. Despite the arms embargo imposed on Russia in 2014, British, Czech, French, German, Spanish, and US-made components were used in production of these UAVs. The report traced European and Russian companies involved in the supply chain of optics, electronics and engines from their manufacturers in the EU to the sanctioned Russian defense companies through a network of Russian and foreign independent electronics and component distributors. The reports also raised the specific problem of the opaque licensing requirements for dual-use components and low effectiveness of the embargo in regard to drone manufacturing.
- CAR findings also indicate that Russian armed formations in Ukraine used weapons previously captured by Russian Armed Forces in Georgia during the Russo-Georgian war of August 2008. Namely, these are Polish GROM anti-aircraft missiles. Georgia bought from Poland 100 MANPADS launch tubes and missiles of this type. Many of these systems were used in combat, and at least 26 missiles remained in the possession of the Georgian army. However, some were abandoned on the battlefield, were taken over by Russian forces and made their way to the conflict zone in Ukraine. Replies of Polish, Georgian and Ukrainian competent authorities to CAR’s tracing requests make it clear that these MANPADS could have come from no other source than the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
CAR took a somewhat compartmentalized approach to its own findings, leaving certain space for misinterpretations (e.g. the kind we witnessed in the New York Times article), or for the propaganda manipulations by the Kremlin. The omission of any mention of the heavy artillery systems and advanced electronic warfare systems (which have been documented in the conflict zone in the east of Ukraine not only by OSINT groups, but also by the OSCE SMM) could make an impression on an unprepared reader that this war is fought mainly with assault rifles. On the other hand, daily updates from the conflict zone by the Armed Forces of Ukraine show that artillery and sniper fire are the main cause of both military and civilian casualties.
At the same time, the findings of the CAR report in their entirety strongly point to the Russian Federation as the sole source of arms in the hybrid war in the East of Ukraine. With a pinch of analysis, these findings also disprove the talking points of Russian propaganda about “booty of war captured by the rebellious miners”, “military surplus shop”, or “finds in the coal mines of the Donbas” as the source of armament for this war. This report compellingly supplements the findings of InformNapalm and other OSINT groups with the data on the origins of the arms used in the war. It also provides a corpus of high-quality court-grade evidence against Russia as the aggressor state for the international courts.
We should like to thank the colleagues from Conflict Armament Research for their meticulous and professional work. We also offer our cooperation for any further research this organization might take about the war in Ukraine. We call on the diplomats of Ukraine to study the findings of the CAR report and add them to their toolset, together with the data collected by the OSCE SMM and OSINT groups.
Read more related material from InformNapalm
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- Volunteers gathered evidence of 35 Russian military units taking part in the invasion of Crimea
- Advanced Russian artillery reconnaissance system Navodchik-2 spotted in Donbas for the first time
- By end of year, Russia plans to set up twenty new military units near its western borders
- Ukraine used Bayraktar TB2 strike drone in war zone for the first time (VIDEO)
This publication was prepared by Artem Velichko and Roman Burko specially for InformNapalm. Distribution and reprint with reference to the source is welcome! (Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0). InformNapalm social media pages: Facebook / Тwitter / Telegram.
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