This article is Part 2 of the review of the Armaments Research Services (ARES) research report `Raising Red Flags: An examination of Arms and Munitions in the ongoing Conflict in Ukraine (Research Report No3, November 2014). Part 1 focussed on the very valuable summary of unique `Flag Item’ weaponry being used in Ukraine by the separatists. It is argued that this data adds to the body of evidence that the Russian military is supplying weapons to the battlegrounds of Eastern Ukraine.
Part 2 however focusses on the critical weakness of the report and responds to the apparent inability of the authors of the report to acknowledge direct Russian involvement in the conflict, despite all evidence (including their own and other well-known sources) to the contrary. The fact that the authors fail to even acknowledge Russian involvement in the fighting, other than in the Crimea where Russia has itself formally acknowledged its forces, sets up their inability to draw appropriate conclusions regarding sources and supply mechanisms of the Flag Item weapons highlighted in Part 1. These first and second components of this article are therefore integrally linked.
I therefore conclude that while the report is a very valuable contribution to the knowledge base of the weapons being utilized in the war in Ukraine, it is questionable in its analysis of the sources of supply, and therefore in its conclusions. And yet in the information field reader perceptions of analysis and conclusions are everything.
Erasing Russian Involvement from the Conflict?
The final chapter of the research report is titled “Sources and Mechanisms of Supply”. This chapter first covers domestic sources, concluding that “battlefield capture has played an integral role in the acquisition of arms and munitions by pro-Russian separatist forces. Arms and ammunition are captured from Ukrainian military bases, captured from routed units, or taken from police and civilian stockpiles”. This is undoubtedly true, and certainly in the early part of the conflict appears to have been the predominant means of arming separatist forces. However as the scale of the conflict has escalated, and faced with increasing pressure from a determined Ukrainian military backed by tanks and heavy artillery, it is impossible to believe that the change of military fortunes that occurred in late August 2014 (which saved the separatist forces from defeat) was on the basis of captured weaponry. Firstly by August the separatists would have already looted all the available stockpiles in their area of control, and being on the retreat had no new sources of arms to further add to their stockpiles. The massive growth of heavy weapons available to the separatist in late August and September/October, which has well recorded in the media, cannot all have come from inside the country. This automatically leads one to look at outside sources for the supply of these weapons, which is covered in the second part of the chapter on “Sources and Mechanisms of Supply”.
It is in this section that the report that the authors reveal their distinct pro-Russian bias. For professional researchers they are completely dismissive of the possibility that Russia is supplying weapons directly to the separatists (or operating directly in Ukraine), and rather blithely state that “the Russian Government has been accused of supplying all manner of arms”. They then state that “some of these accusations have been proven demonstrably false (while referencing just one supposed example of a false claim), while the veracity of others remains uncertain”. This is hardly a convincing conclusion based on the evidence they themselves highlight earlier in the report, nor is the dismissal of Russian involvement based on the level of detail of research the issue clearly requires, if one is to deal with the issue at all. There is a significant body of argument, and evidence which points directly to Russian sources and mechanisms of supply of the weaponry in Ukraine, if the authors had only bothered to consider. While the Chapter acknowledges that some weapons could not have come from Ukrainian sources it then ends by discussing an arbitrary Moldovian criminal rumoured to be involved in arms smuggling. How the authors would have us believe that criminal smugglers are involved in transporting the most up to date T72 tanks, Pantsir S1 air defence systems and the like from Russian stockpiles to Ukraine is a little astonishing.
With such a deficient analysis on the supply of these sophisticated Russian weapons to Ukraine it would be useful to reflect on the evidence available. We will highlight five issues which, in our belief, comprise a body of evidence which would convince any researcher to conclude that on the balance of probabilities Russian has, and is, supplying vast quantities of weapons to fuel the conflict in Ukraine. One does not need a signed confession from a criminal to obtain a conviction in court.
1) The report documents the origins of many weapons back to Russian stockpiles
The report itself documents the origins of a large number of weapons and munitions to Russia. Examples from the report include:
- OG-7 Anti-tank system with markings indicating produced in Russia in 2001, with impact fuse also produced in Russia. (pg 46)
- RPG-18s stored in Russia as recently as 2011. (pg47)
- MRO-A rocket launchers systems produced in Russia in 2008 (pg 48)
- 9M39 missiles fired from 9K38 Igla systems indicating storage in Russia in April 2014
It is of course possible that these arms and munitions have arrived in Ukraine via third parties (such as the said Moldavian criminal smuggler), but this evidence is certainly a `smoking gun’ within the overall body of evidence.
2) The report spends a considerable amount of effort to document the extent of `flag item’ Russian weaponry in use in Eastern Ukraine against the Ukrainian military.
Just to remind ourselves, the authors themselves assert that most of the weaponry they identify as `Flag Items’ are not available, or have very little availability, to any other forces other than the Russian Military. Table 1, which is drawn up from information found in the article summarizes this situation. Yet the authors draw conclusions which completely ignore their own information.
3) The report suggests that weapons are “smuggled” into Ukraine from Russia, implying that weapon transfers are being carried out secretly past Russian and Ukrainian border guards
Maybe the implication is accidental but nevertheless the term `smuggled’ sits very differently with the well-known situation of a border completely unguarded by the Ukrainian authorities, and which only has Russian border control in place. With tank and armoured vehicle columns being driven across the border in broad daylight with the `approval’ of the Russian border forces one fails to see how this can be termed smuggling as opposed to state-assisted weapon transfers. So if the weapons transfers have the full support of the Russian government why does the Russian Government need to assist the separatist forces with weapons through arms-dealers? Clearly that doesn’t make any sense. Considering the length of period of transfers, the scale of transfers, and openness of transfers, one can only logically conclude that the weapons are a direct transfer from the Russian military to the separatist forces. This does not mean that there are not weapons being transferred from para-military groups within Russia or from groups in other countries, but the evidence of direct Russian government involvement in arming the separatists is pretty overwhelming.
4) The report completely ignores the recent invasion of Russian regular forces into Ukraine and the obvious implications this has for the provision of weapons to fight the Ukrainian military.
The authors comment that the Ukrainian armed forces have an “overwhelming advantage” in airpower and armour. This assertion was certainly true up to late August 2014. However the battle of Ilovaisk marked a dramatic change in the balance of forces with the first evidence of regular Russian combat units being deployed inside Ukraine (other than special force and FSB units which were identified well before this). It is appears undisputed (except by Russia and their supporters internationally) that the Ukrainian defeat at Ilovaisk was due to the intervention of Russian troops, armour and artillery units who scattered the Ukrainian rear-guard, encircled the Ukrainian units in the town, and then proceeded to destroy these units as they attempted to retreat.
Since Ilovaisk, a wide range of news sources, from social media, to small internet news sites, to large commercial media agencies, have all reported on a massive influx of Russian weaponry into Eastern Ukraine from the Russian border. These reports have been based on local media sources, western media sightings, videos uploaded by separatist fighters and supporters, as well as reports from NATO, the US government and other authorities. Reports are currently (November 2014) estimating that the `separatist’ forces have some 100 tanks and 400 armoured vehicles available (including modern anti-air weapon systems) and hundreds of artillery pieces. This is over and above the estimated seven to ten thousand Russian troops in Ukraine,[i] and the repeated reports of Russian artillery firing over the border in support of `their’ forces in side Ukraine. Taken with the Ukrainian Government’s acknowledgement of substantial Ukrainian losses of armoured vehicles, and losses of aircraft, this hardly sounds like an “overwhelming advantage”. It is noticeable that since September there has been very little use of Ukrainian air power, and once can only presume that this is precisely because of the introduction of sophisticated anti-air ground missile systems and the reported use of the Russian air force against Ukrainian aircraft. Yet the military specialists writing the report appear to have missed this dramatic shift in the balance of forces completely. This then allows them to conveniently ignore the obvious implications, that being if the Russian military is directly involved in fighting, then the supply of weapons by Russia to their proxy forces would hardly even be up for debate.
5) The report ignores a wide range of sources which have been documenting both the origins and mechanisms of weaponry being used against the Ukrainian military
There have been a number of sources which have documented the ongoing supply of weaponry by Russia. Local Ukrainian sources include InformNapalm.org (and its multi-language site BurkoNews.info) which specialize in reporting on military matters related to Russian troop and weapon supply. Other Ukrainian news sites which have regularly reported on Russian troop and weapons supply include Censor.net (Ukrainian and English sites), Euromaidenpress.com, and Interpretermag.com all of which both report from their own investigations as well as carry articles from other researchers. A particularly useful blog on is Ukraineatwar.blogspot.nl. This blog specializing in geo-locating videos or photographs of troops, equipment or conflict spots (such as artillery hits points), and provides ample evidence of Russian military equipment entering from Russia, and Russian artillery firing across the border.
If the authors need further evidence of Russian military involvement, perhaps they missed the Russian paratrooper prisoners put on Ukrainian national television (who were later send back home), or the numerous reports of Russian military casualties.
Perhaps to conclude, for those who would dismiss all these sources mentioned above, and the countless others, as inconclusive, it would be useful to quote from a response made by Jens Stoltenberg (Secretary General of NATO) in a press conference in Estonia on the 20th November 2014:
“Q: Does NATO have any intelligence at the moment suggesting that Russian forces inside eastern Ukraine and on the borders of Ukraine are preparing for an attack?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So what we have is that we have information both from our own sources but also from open sources as, for instance, the organizations… Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE and also some independent reporters from inside Ukraine. And they are confirming the picture we have, and that is that there has been a military build-up both inside Ukraine and on the border to Ukraine, on the Russian side.
What we have seen is a movement of equipment, of troops, tanks, artillery, advanced air defense systems. And this movement also into Ukraine at least underlines that there is a build-up which is undermining the Minsk agreement, which is fuelling the conflict. And we ask or we… we call on Russia to stop fuelling the conflict and to pull back its troops both from inside eastern Ukraine but also from the border, and we call on Russia to respect the Minsk agreements and also to use all its influence on the separatists to make sure that they are respecting the ceasefire.
So, yeah, our sources provide the same pictures as other sources. There are… there is a military build-up taking place and there are severe violations of the ceasefire agreement”[i].
Author: Christopher Garfield
The report from ARES can be found here: