American forces have been deployed to Ukraine in order to combat weapons smuggling or confirm claims of it are a Russian disinformation campaign.
Many Western countries have provided military assistance to Ukraine through weapons, training, and other support.
Ukrainian officials have long been concerned about the potential for military equipment and weapons to be diverted or misused. As a result, numerous reports of weapons being smuggled out of Ukraine and sold on the black market.
In a recent story by the BBC, it was revealed that these reports of Western weapons smuggling are most likely a Russian disinformation operation. They undertook to make contact with the alleged seller of these weapons on the dark web and found that the sellers were Russians posing themselves as Poles and Ukrainians and were using photoshopped images of weapons used in Syria.
In the course of the war in Ukraine, Russia has captured and displayed western weapons they have captured from Ukrainian forces so it is possible these captured weapons could be transferred to others but it would border on the impossible. Ukraine’s border is closely guarded, and cars and trucks are searched. Any Ukrainian caught trying to smuggle weapons out of the country would be dealt with very harshly under the current conditions of martial law in the country.
In light of these reports and in a show of cooperation and trust, the Ukrainian government resumed onsite inspections of weapons stockpiles this week. A small number of American military personnel are assisting with these inspections. Ukraine has joined NATO’s supply system which allows the country to buy equipment directly from NATO suppliers. These items have a reliable chain of custody and the supplier knows exactly who is buying the weapons(Ukraine’s government) and where they are going.
The United States has insisted that it has not observed evidence that its military assistance is being put to illicit use in Ukraine and for US military hardware, the US government receives in the shipments in Poland and secures them until they are shipped to Ukraine by transportation provided by the government in Kyiv. You can be pretty certain the warehouse locations in Poland are closely guarded by Polish authorities. The Kremlin has said that it will consider all foreign weapons deliveries to Ukraine, whether they are on the front lines or not, as legitimate military targets. Thus far, Russia has not lobbed any missiles into Poland trying to hit these locations, if they even know where they are. Russian missiles have targeted foreign aid stockpiles as far west as Lviv near the border with Poland in the far-western Lviv region.
A senior US defense official said earlier this week that a “small number” of US military personnel are conducting onsite inspections of Ukrainian weapons caches to ensure that military assistance to Kyiv is appropriately accounted for. They would also inspect them for damage and operability as well. Systems like the Stinger and Javelin do not shoot right out of the box, some assembly is required to make them work.
Defense officials said there have been “several” such inspections, but they did not specify how many US personnel were in Ukraine or where the inspections took place. Similar inspections were performed before the war, but they were halted after Russian forces invaded on Feb. 24.
What prompted the Ukrainian government to resume onsite inspections is likely to reassure Western nations supplying arms that they are keeping track of them. It will also supply evidence to refute the Russian disinformation operation probably behind the weapon’s smuggling claims. Claims of Western aid being diverted to criminal gangs in Finland persist, with unverified reports claiming that Ukrainian intermediaries have sold weapons provided by Western countries to Russian-affiliated actors. According to the Moscow Times, the Finnish police have raised concerns about smuggling rings trafficking Western-donated weapons from Ukraine, while Europol echoed these concerns earlier this year. The Moscow Times is not state-controlled by Moscow. The online newspaper relocated to Amsterdam after the war began to avoid the strict censorship of the Putin regime. The site itself is banned in Russia which imposed tight controls on the internet access of its population after the war began. Their report does not claim that heavy weaponry is being smuggled out of the country but describes criminal biker gangs buying pistols, rifles, and grenades presumed to be from Ukraine. It is quite possible these weapons are Russian equipment captured during the fighting and not as strictly controlled and inventoried as weaponry coming from the West are. The report does not state how many weapons have been smuggled into Finland or show any that have been recovered.
Ukraine is also dealing with the memory of weapons smuggling out of the country during the previous 6 years of occupation by Russian forces when its militias in Luhansk and Donbas were being privately funded with arms bought anywhere they could get them. Ukrainian anti-smuggling operations frequently found these militia troops engaged in weapons trafficking schemes with weapons captured from pro-Russia militias. Photos of the equipment seized is not of weapons fresh out of the box, but well-used and worn weapons and even bags of loose ammunition with the brass almost black with oxidation from being exposed to the elements.
According to NBC News, US officials maintain they have not observed evidence that American military assistance is being put to illicit use in Ukraine, where there is a “vital need” for these weapons to defend against the Russian invasion. An intensive internal demand for these weapons on the battlefield, as judged by Ukrainian military and security personnel operating inside Ukraine, is thought to be preventing the proliferation of small arms and guided infantry weapons on the black market,
a State Department document said.
There were no details provided about direct engagement with Russian forces when Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder was asked about the risks, but he reaffirmed that the inspections are being conducted away from the front lines. Ryder said that he believed personnel conducting the examinations would be “far away from any type of frontline action.”
Lawmakers have been pressuring the Biden administration in recent months for heightened supervision of the security assistance delivered to Ukraine in massive quantities. However, it is unknown whether lawmakers within the GOP, who have led these appeals, will seek alterations in Washington’s approach to security assistance for Kyiv if Republicans win the House and Senate in the coming midterm elections.
Ukraine’s Success Maybe Dependent on US-Supplied Weaponry
Western military assistance has become an increasingly important factor in Ukraine’s present success in pushing back Russian forces. This success would make it a target in the information war which is the second front in the war in Ukraine. A war over popular opinion in the West to continue supporting Ukraine with arms and munitions until they regain their lost territory.