As Russian military supplies continue to enter Ukraine, it becomes harder by the day for Putin to deny that Moscow is providing arms to the separatists.
In fact Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the US Army’s top commander in Europe, says that Russian support for separatists has “doubled” since Ukraine and Russia reached a tentative ceasefire.
“When you look at the amount of Russian equipment that the proxies were using prior to the Minsk agreements, that amount has doubled beginning in December into the hundreds,” Hodges told reporters on his first visit to Ukraine.
Russian support for the separatists include artillery, surveillance drones, and armored vehicles that would otherwise be next to impossible for a rebel group to obtain.
“Those are not the types of things you would find in a militia. They clearly are coming from a modern military force coming from Russia,” Hodges said.
In November, the Armament Research Services has released their third report on the arms and munitions being used by both the Ukrainian government and the rebels in the ongoing conflict. Complete with photographic evidence, it is clear that Moscow has been covertly supplying an assortment of older Soviet weaponry along with recently introduced Russian equipment to the separatists.
AK-47 (Photo: Wikimedia)
Self-loading rifles are a popular weapon of the separatist forces.
Aside from a number of AK rifle varieties, the separatists also sport a host of recreation hunting and sport firearms. In one case, a separatist was documented using VSS rifles. These are Russian-made marksman rifles that are analogous to those used by Russian forces during the annexation of Crimea.
The self-loading rifles used by the separatists include:
- Soviet AK-74
- Soviet AKS-74U
- Soviet AR-10 and AR-15 hunting rifles
- Russian VSS designated marksman rifle
Light Machine Guns
Light machine guns make up some of the most common weaponry of the separatists.
The light machine guns utilized by the separatists include weaponry used by the Ukrainian military, as well as Russian-produced guns that are not in service with Ukrainian forces. The PKP ‘Pecheneg’ light machine gun, for example, is not used by the Ukrainian forces and has been exported outside of Russia in only minimal quantities.
The light machine guns used by the separatists include:
- Russian RPK-74
- Russian PK and PK GPMGs
- Russian PKP ‘Pecheneg’
Shotguns and Bolt-Action Rifles
The use of shotguns and bolt-action rifles have been documented as being used by separatists who are incapable of accessing better quality small arms.
Some older bolt-action sporting rifles have also been documented being used by the separatists. These rifles are in some cases antiques, dating to use with the Russian infantry from World War II or earlier.
The shotguns and bolt-action rifles used by the separatists include:
- Russian semi-automatic Saiga 12 shotguns
- Turkish semi-automatic Akkar Altay shotguns
- Philippino Armscor Model 30 pump-action shotgun
- Russian infantry Mosin M91 rifle
Makarov PM Handgun (Photo: Wikimedia)
Russian crafted handguns dominate as the principal choice for the separatists.
Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, the former leader of the Donbass People’s Militia and governor of Luhansk, has had photos carefully taken of him handling a Russian Stechkin APS. The APS was originally designed for Russian vehicle, artillery, and RPG crews.
The handguns used by the separatists include:
- Russian Makarov PM
- Russian Stechkin APS
Anti-material rifles are light weapons that have been designed for use against military equipment rather than use against people.
The anti-material rifles being used by the separatists include outdated and obsolete Soviet World War II era anti-tank rifles (the PTRS-41) and the equally old PTRD. In at least one case, separatists were found to be using the Russian ASVK anti-material rifle. The ASVK has only been introduced into the Russian military within the past two years and none have been known to have been exported.
The anti-material rifles used by the separatists include:
- Soviet PTRS-41
- Soviet PTRD
- Russian ASVK
Heavy Machine Guns
The origins of the heavy machine guns used by the separatists in Ukraine is murky. Both the Ukrainian government and the separatists use similar weaponry, and it is possible that the rebels salvaged the weaponry from Ukrainian military vehicles.
In general, the heavy machine guns used by the separatists are fairly old. Most date
back to the Soviet Union, while the Maxim PM1910 may date back as early as the Russian Empire. The PM1910 was likely looted from a museum or a historical re-enactment community.
The heavy machine guns used by the separatists include:
- Soviet DShKM
- Soviet NSV and NSVT
- Soviet Maxim PM1910
Underbarrel and Automatic Grenade Launchers
Like the heavy machine guns, both the Ukrainian government and the separatists have used the same variety of underbarrel and automatic grenade launchers.
In the case of eastern Ukraine, it is impossible to determine whether the grenade launchers were captured from Ukrainian soldiers or were provided to the separatists from Russia.
The grenade launchers used by the separatists include:
- Soviet GP-25
- Soviet AGS-17 AGLs
Portable Anti-Tank Systems
The separatists have a wide variety of portable anti-tank systems. For the most part, the rebels seem to prefer the use of rocket propelled grenades of the legacy RPG-7 launcher. However, the rebels have also used more modern RPG-18 and RPG-22 systems.
Notably, separatists have also been documented using MRO-A disposable incendiary rocket launcher systems. These systems are not known to have ever been exported outside of Russia.
The portable anti-tank systems used by the separatists include:
- Soviet RPG-7
- Soviet RPG-22
- Soviet RPG-26
- Russian RPG-18
- Russian RPO-A
- Russian MRO-A
Crew-Served Recoilless Guns and Mortars
Used alongside the portable anti-tank systems are a mixture of Soviet-era recoilless guns and mortars. These weapons are generally dated. There is no direct evidence that these weapons have been provided by the Russians to the separatists, as both the Ukrainian government and the separatists make use of similar systems.
The crew-served recoilless guns and mortars used by the separatists include:
- Soviet SPG-9 recoilless gun
- Soviet 82 and 120 mm mortar tubes
- Soviet 120 mm 2B16 Nona-K
Anti-Tank Guided Weapons
Anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs) have been documented in large numbers in the hands of the separatists. The majority of these ATGWs are used by both the Ukrainian military and the separatists.
However, the separatists have also been documented using the 9K135 Kornet ATGW system. The Kornet is not in service with the Ukrainian military, although it is used by the Russians. Based on discarded components found on the battlefield, the missiles used for the Kornet were produced in Russia in 2007.
Russia has exported the Kornet to several other states around the world, and militants in Gaza, Iraq, Libya, and Syria have all been documented using the weapon system.
The ATGWs used by the separatists include:
- Soviet 9K111
- Soviet 9K114
- Soviet 9K115
- Russian 9K135
Man-Portable Air Defense Systems
Separatist forces have a large array of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs) and anti-aircraft guns. By and large, the MANPADs that the separatists have been using are of the same make as what is within the Ukrainian arsenal. There have been reports of separatists seizing supplies of MANPADs from the Ukrainian military early in the conflict.
However, in one notable exception, Polish PPZR Grom MANPADs were captured from the separatists. One of the only countries that Poland ever exported the PPZR to was Georgia. In 2008, during Russia’s invasion of the country, Russia was known to have captured some of the Polish-supplied PPZRs. It is likely that those captured weapons are now being funneled to the separatists.
The MANPADs used by the separatists include:
- Soviet 9K38
- Soviet 9K32
- Polish PPZR Grom
Aside from MANPADs, the separatists also have a varied arsenal of anti-aircraft guns. At times, these weapons have also been turned against Ukrainian military personnel and light vehicles.
The anti-aircraft guns that the separatists, and to a smaller extent the Ukrainian government, have been utilizing are heavy machine guns mounted in one, two, and four barrel configurations. The separatists likely captured the anti-aircraft weapons from the Ukrainian military.
The anti-aircraft systems used by the separatists include:
- Soviet 14.5 x 114 mm ZPU
- Soviet ZU-23-2
Artillery has become one of the primary methods of engagement between the Ukrainian government and separatist fighters. Indiscriminate shelling by both sides has led to widespread destruction throughout portions of eastern Ukraine, along with significant civilian casualties.
Both the Ukrainian government and the separatists use the same varieties of Soviet and Russian artillery in their engagements. As such, it is difficult to determine whether the rebels had received these arms directly from Russia or had looted them from the Ukrainian military.
The artillery systems used by the separatists include:
- Soviet 122 mm D-30 howitzer
- Soviet 100 mm BS-3 anti-tank gun
- Soviet 100 mm MT-12 anti-tank gun
- Soviet 152 mm 2A65 Msta-B
- Soviet 76 mm ZiS-3 field gun
Main Battle Tanks
Both Ukrainian governmental forces and the separatists have placed high value on the use of main battle tanks. In many cases, the separatists are utilizing captured Ukrainian tanks, or tanks of the same model provided by the Russians.
However, the separatists have also used Russian tanks that are not known to have ever been exported outside of the country such as the T-72B and T-72BA. Notably, the separatists have also deployed the T-72B3, the latest T-72 model in the Russian service. The tank is not known to have been exported and it was just introduced into service in 2013 indicating Russian involvement in the crisis.
The main battle tanks used by the separatists include:
- Soviet T-64A, B, BM, and BV models
- Russian T-72 B
- Russian T-72BA
- Russian T-72B3
Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Armored Personnel Carriers
Infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and armored personnel carriers (APCs) are the most documented type of armored fighting vehicle in use in Ukraine. Both IFVs and APCs are designed to function as armored troop carriers, with IFVs being differentiated as having an armament of 20 mm in calibre or larger for offensive capabilities.
Although the separatists and the Ukrainians use many of the same IFVs and APCs, separatists have been documented using Russian-variants of APCs in the Ukrainian arsenal that were designed in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Strikingly, separatists have also been documented driving the BTR-82AM IFV. This model was inducted into Russian service in 2013 and is not known to have ever been exported.
The IFV and APC systems used by the separatists include:
- Soviet BMP-2
- Soviet MT-LB
- Russian BTR-82Am
- Russian MT-LB 6MA, MT-LBVM, and MT-LBVMK
Both the Ukrainians and the separatists have utilized the same variants of self-propelled artillery. Given the models and the Ukrainian numerical advantage in fielding these weapon types, the separatists likely looted or captured their self-propelled artillery.
The self-propelled artillery systems used by the separatists include:
- Soviet 2S1 Gvozdika
- Soviet 2S3 Akatsia
- Soviet 2S5 Giatsint-S
- Soviet 2S9 Nona-S
Self-Propelled Rocket Artillery
Much like self-propelled artillery, the Ukrainian government has used self-propelled rocket artillery significantly more than the separatists have. In almost every occasion that the separatists have used rocket artillery, the weapons systems used were identical to what is in the arsenal of the Ukrainian government.
Although the separatists have generally used the 9K51 Grad rocket system, which may or may not have been looted from Ukrainian forces, the rebels also have used a 9K51M Tornado-G. This is a modernized Grad system that was likely supplied by the Russians. However, documented proof of the separatist’s using this system is limited.
The self-propelled rocket artillery systems used by the separatists include:
- Soviet 9K51 Grad
- Russian 9K51 Tornado-G
Self-Propelled Air Defense Systems
In addition to MANPADs, the separatists have made frequent use of self-propelled air defense systems. These systems seek to negate the Ukrainian government’s complete aerial dominance. The systems have proved effective at downing Ukrainian aircraft and were also involved in the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
The rebels in general have used air defense systems that are present in the Ukrainian military. However, the separatists have also utilized Russian Pantsir-S1 and Buk missile systems that were not in the Ukrainian arsenal.
The self-propelled air defense systems used by the separatists include:
- Soviet 9K33, 9K35, and 9K37
- Russian Pantsir-S1
- Russian Buk missile system
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