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UK researchers trace 95% of weapons in Ukraine warzone to Russian manufacturers

A UAV of unknown designation with the number 2166 documented by CAR in Kyiv on 10 November 2020.
UK researchers trace 95% of weapons in Ukraine warzone to Russian manufacturers
The UK-based investigative organization Conflict Armament Research (CAR) published the report titled Weapons of War in Ukraine based on the organization’s three-year investigation of weapon supplies into the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Unsurprisingly, the forensic researchers found that most weapons and ammo used against Ukrainian forces came from Russian factories.
The two Russian-run self-proclaimed “republics” occupy roughly one-third of Ukraine’s Donbas region. Map: Euromaidan Press

CAR tracks the supply of weapons and ammunition into conflict-affected areas. Previously, CAR investigated the sources of military supplies into Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Mali, Central African Republic.

Since 2018, CAR field investigation teams have carried out forensic documentation of the military equipment that has been recovered from armed formations of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” (DNR and LNR, or LDNR collectively) in eastern Ukraine, officially known as certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts or ORDLO.

This report is the result of a three-year study into the supply sources of weapons, ammunition, vehicles, armor, and artillery used in the conflict.

“This report is a window into a largely forgotten conflict that, since early 2014, has persisted at the edge of Europe,” the study reads.

Here are five major finds of the report.

Most of the LDNR weapons are made in Russia

Recovery locations of weapons and ammunition documented by CAR in Ukraine, 2018-2020. Source: CAR report

Unsurprisingly, the study shows that most of the examined weapons and material had Russian origins: the majority of the 4,793 small-caliber ammunition studied by CAR in Ukraine and all but two of the 43 weapons, or 95%, were manufactured in the territory of the Russian Federation.

The scrutinized weapons included assault rifles, grenade launchers, and anti-tank guided weapons. Among other pieces of examined military equipment and materiel were land mines, a large number of rounds of ammunition, optical sights, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), medical and protective equipment, main battle tanks, one multiple-rocket launcher system, armored
personnel carriers, and truck tractors.

Multiple earlier studies largely based on the analysis of open-source photo and video evidence rather than systematic field-based investigations have already proved the extensive use of Russian weapons and matériel in the ORDLO.

CAR, however, uses digital evidence only occasionally as background information and doesn’t base its investigations on it. Instead, CAR analyses physical evidence gathered from the weapons themselves. The organization’s field investigators document the items of weapons, ammunition, matériel recovered in the conflict zones by government forces, surrendered, cached, or held by insurgent forces.

Number of weapons, by type and production facility (n=43). All named factories on the y-axis are located in Russia. Source: CAR report

Having access to hard evidence in the field, the investigators take photographs of items including external and internal markings on them — something, as the study points, often missing in open-source information. The further documentation of the item includes fixing the date, geo-data, incorporating contextual interviews with those in control of the items at the time of documentation.

The next step of the investigation is tracing the traceable items to the source of their origin, using a variety of government, commercial, transport, and other documents.

Quantity of small-caliber ammunition documented by CAR in Ukraine, by producer country (n=4,793). Source: CAR report

CAR found that a significant proportion of the examined items recovered from LDNR were manufactured after the collapse of the USSR, which means that these weapons and ammunition can’t come from Ukraine’s Soviet-times stocks.

Period of manufacture of weapon types documented in Ukraine, in relation to the dissolution of the Soviet Union (n=43). Source: CAR report
Number of unique headstamps of small-caliber ammunition documented by CAR in Ukraine, by year of production if known, and in relation to the dissolution of the Soviet Union (n=62). Source: CAR report

The study concluded that the conflict in Ukraine isn’t dependent on extra-regional supply chains based on the finding that almost half of the weapon models had never been documented by CAR in any of the other conflicts previously investigated by the organization.

CAR also found that most small arms they had documented displayed matching serial numbers on their main components, which is an indication that such parts were original and weren’t replaced with components from other weapons.

“The lack of component mixing suggests a short chain of custody between the point at which weapons left a production facility or military inventory and use by armed formations operating in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine,” the report reads.

Obliterated markings

In 2014, the Russian-hybrid forces used to overpaint the original Russian markings on military vehicles to hide their true origin. It appears, that they did it not only to the heavy equipment: the CAR investigation exposes the systematic obliteration of certain marks on specific types of ammunition.

According to the report, the investigators observed obliterated identifying marks in “about two-thirds of the RPO-A and all of the MRO-A disposable rocket launchers” they had documented in Ukraine. Both types of ammunition are produced only in Russia.

“As with all cases of obliteration, it is likely that parties removed the marks either to conceal evidence of the precise point of diversion or to mask the country of manufacture,” the report reads.

Interestingly, those who obliterated some marks on the launchers knowingly left others untouched, which allows maintaining weapon inventories even with primary identifying marks removed.

“This method suggests that the suppliers and the end users of these weapons applied recordkeeping and inventory management processes in line with established military doctrine, implying that they operated within a larger, centralised logistics structure.”
Details of obliterated markings on MRO-A disposable rocket launchers with the secondary mark intact. Documented by CAR in 2018. Source: CAR report

Moreover, the investigators found that the manner of removing the identifying markings wasn’t consistent, which suggests that these items were supplied via different channels while it was up to the end-users how to get rid of the marks.


Some items examined by CAR weren’t manufactured in Russia, however, by came to ORDLO from Russia together with other army supplies. For example, Russian forces stole Polish-made GROM E2 MANPADS in Georgia in 2008, and in 2014 these portable surface-to-air missiles popped up in the warzone in the east of Ukraine and were later recovered by the Ukrainian troops.

GROM E2 MANPADS supply chain. Source: CAR report

Russian drones and their components supplied bypassing arms embargo

Among eight inspected unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), CAR documented six different models of Russian military UAVs and one model of a civilian drone.

“CAR’s tracing of components of Russian-manufactured UAVs, recovered from armed formations operating in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, identified independent Russian electronics and component distributors as conduits for foreign technology acquisition on behalf of Russian defense and security entities,” the report reads.

One of the documented UAV models was a recovered intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance military drone, which happened to be the same model as one recovered in Lithuania in 2016, where Russia users UAVs for illegal intelligence.

“Both UAVs had been constructed using a range of components manufactured in EU states,” according to the report.

One of the Russian-made Eleron-3SV UAVs documented by CAR in Ukraine. Source: CAR report

Most of the EU-manufactured components were produced and supplied before the EU, EU, and other world powers started imposing sanctions against Russia after to the beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian war in 2014. However, some of the EU-made components were shipped to Russia when it already was under sanctions,

“…between 2014 and 2018, according to Russian customs records, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) supplied a sanctioned Russian defense company and its subsidiary with UAV components produced by a range of European and US manufacturers,” the report reads.

A Russian-made Granat-2 UAV documented by CAR in Kyiv in 2020. Source: CAR report
“Disagreements between European governments and industry actors pose challenges to the enforcement of embargoes. 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,” the report authors believe.

Military and dual-use production in ORDLO

CAR has provided evidence of attempts to restart the production of ammunition at PJSC
Luhansk Cartridge Works for supplying the “LNR” armed formations, and, according to the report, “these efforts involved private Russian entities.”

Having analyzed Russian trade records, CAR also identified five other manufacturers in ORDLO specialized in producing defense and dual-use goods, which made exports to Russia past-2014,

Factory Part of Ukroboronprom? Under Ukrainian sanctions since August 2014? Goods exported Consignee in the Russian Federation
‘Aviatech-Plus’ LLC No No Turbine engine parts ‘Aviatech’ LLC
Donetsk Branch of ‘Aviatech’ LLC No No Engine maintenance tools; parts for aero-engines, including TV3-117VM (for Mil and Kamov
helicopters), AI-series (Ivchenko/Motor Sich) turbofan engines, and DI-18T engines (for An-124 and An-225 cargo aircraft)
Aviatech’ LLC
‘Pervomayskiy Mechanical Plant’ PJSC Yes Yes Wide range of aircraft components, particularly for IL-76 cargo aircraft JSC ‘Avia-Fed-Service’ (aviation components distributor
State Enterprise ‘Luhansk Aircraft Repair Plant’ Yes Yes Pressure instruments, pipes, and tanks originally produced by military–civilian aircraft engine producer Motor Sich (Ukraine) ‘ASZ’ LLC
State Enterprise
No Yes Voltage relays; AC/DC converters Four large electronic
component distributors:
• JSC NPP ‘Promelectron’,
• JSC ‘TsMK-Aero’,
• JSC ‘Hermes’,
Transfers to the Russian Federation from entities in Donetsk and Luhansk. Source: CAR report

Virtually, all of the Ukrainian state-owned factories and most of the privately-owned ones located in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine’s east were seized by occupation administrations or armed formations back in 2014 or in the subsequent years, however, Ukraine didn’t sanction all of those, as the first two lines of the table show.

Two of these five factories are part of the Ukrainian state-owned conglomerate Ukroboronprom, and three are under Ukrainian sanctions imposed in August 2014 on illegally expropriated companies. None of the exporting or importing entities are currently under specific EU sanctions.
“Further investigation is necessary to determine whether illegal expropriation and asset stripping of these Ukrainian state enterprises is occurring in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine,” the report reads.

Read the full text of CAR’s report Weapons of the War in Ukraine to see the detailed information about many of the documented weapons and pieces of equipment and see more of its findings.

Further reading:

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