Since 2014, the news media and other observers have provided accounts of weapon sourcing to armed formations operating in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. To date, efforts to verify these claims have 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 DPR and LPR. This report presents the findings to help shed light on the extent to which these armed formations depend on external supplies.
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.
Despite the 2014 EU arms embargo on the Russian Federation, key EU-made technology has thus made its way into Russian military drones. CAR’s investigation indicates that a general lack of clarity regarding the end use or end user of components, as well as opaque licensing requirements for dual-use components, may facilitate the export of EU-made components for the manufacture of Russian military UAVs.
The investigation also exposes the systematic obliteration of primary identifying marks on certain weapons recovered from the armed formations operating in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, such as rocket launchers. This practice hinders traceability by concealing evidence of the precise point of diversion or the country of manufacture. The intentional retention of secondary marks, however, enables users to maintain record-keeping and inventories, in keeping with established military doctrine. The overall approach indicates that the militias operate within a centralised logistics structure.
Most of the components that CAR documented are original and were not taken from other weapons, which may suggest a short chain of custody between the point at which the weapons left a production facility or military inventory and their use by the militias in eastern Ukraine. Since the war began in 2014, military supplies have also been exported from facilities in Luhansk and Donetsk to new Russian customers. This development calls for further investigation.
By Conflict Armament Research