One of the advantages of quality video cameras in phones becoming accessible to the masses around the world is that it is now easier than ever to track arms flows in conflicts. While we have seen this method used to spot weapons in the recent/ongoing wars in Libya and Syria, the Ukraine conflict has provided a particularly exceptional chance to test it by differentiating locally available weapons from Russian Federation weapons suspected to be entering the stockpiles of Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Nic R. Jenzen-Jones, the director of ARES [Armament Research Services], was able to positively identify 20 weapons systems in Ukraine that had never previously been exported from their country of origin. Nineteen of those came from Russia, and one was from Poland. He calls these “flag items” because they can be clearly tied to outside nations.
From Russia, ARES identified exotic killing tools like the VSS suppressed marksman rifle, heavy armor like the T-72B3 main battle tank, and newer thermobaric rocket launchers like the MRO-A that have not been seen outside the Federation’s borders.
The lone Polish flag item was the PPZR Grom man-portable air defense missile system, which ARES spotted in a YouTube video released by the Ukrainian military. The missile was manufactured in 2007, according to markings painted on its exterior.
But the report also draws conclusions that counter the widely accepted narrative that the insurgents depend on Russian matériel.
By analyzing photographs of captured ordnance, ARES also determined that existing stockpiles of weapons were the single biggest source of military goods used by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.