Russian Fronts, Criminal Gangs: US Couldn't Account for Weapons Sent to Ukraine Last Year

Airman checks pallets of 155 mm shells ultimately bound for Ukraine.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cody Brown, right, with the 436th Aerial Port Squadron, checks pallets of 155 mm shells ultimately bound for Ukraine, April 29, 2022, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Last year, a Russian-led organized crime group in Ukraine was able to obtain weapons shipped to the country for the war effort -- including a grenade launcher and machine gun -- with the intent of destabilizing the country.

In other instances, a group of volunteer Ukrainian battalion members stole more than 60 rifles and nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition, likely to sell on the black market, and Ukrainian criminals posing as a humanitarian aid organization illegally imported and sold bullet-resistant vests.

The schemes were disrupted by Ukraine's security service, but they also show the dangers and potential pitfalls of the $23 billion deluge of security assistance, much of it weapons, that the U.S. sent to Ukraine in 2022 with little or no accountability.

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A Pentagon inspector general report, obtained by through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that, in the opening months of the war in Ukraine, American military forces were unable to monitor where much of the military equipment being sent into the country was ending up -- showing a violation of U.S. law and suggesting some gear fell into the hands of Russians and criminals.

At the time, the U.S. had shipped a wide variety of equipment to Ukraine, including thousands of Stinger and Javelin missiles; howitzers; more than 10,000 grenade launchers; C-4 explosives; and 59 million rounds of small-arms ammunition. Larger, more complex systems included National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS; newly developed Phoenix Ghost drones; and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS.

The IG report looked at February through September, from the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 24 to the end of the U.S. federal government's fiscal year.

The investigation found that U.S. personnel were unable to track where military equipment was ending up in those early months and noted that, by the summer of 2022, Ukrainian security forces were dismantling crime groups that were well-equipped with heavy weapons.

In one instance mentioned in the report, in late June 2022, the Ukrainian security service, or SBU, broke up a crime group controlled by an "unspecified Russian official" whose members joined a volunteer battalion using forged identity documents and then procured weapons, including the grenade launcher and machine gun.

"The perceived intent of the group was to conduct destabilizing activities," the report said.

Although the report does not specifically say the weapons were provided by the U.S., the example is cited in an otherwise heavily redacted section that deals with how American-supplied gear was largely tracked by the Ukrainians and not U.S. officials.

The IG noted that effective monitoring of the large amount of gear the U.S. was providing required people on the ground in Ukraine to conduct compliance assessment visits and accountability assessments.

"The inability of [Defense Department] personnel to visit areas where equipment provided to Ukraine was being used or stored significantly hampered [Kyiv's Office of Defense Cooperation]'s ability to execute [end-use monitoring]," according to the IG report.

Investigators noted that this limitation was largely due to the small number of Americans allowed in the war-torn country, as well as the temporary shuttering of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

It was not until November -- a month after the report was published -- that the Pentagon said U.S. inspectors would arrive in the country.

A law last amended in 1996 -- the Arms Export Control Act -- requires the government to monitor how military equipment provided to any foreign country, either through sale or as aid, is being used. The inspector general's report specifically notes that the Pentagon runs the "Golden Sentry" program to comply with this law and make sure U.S. military equipment is being used appropriately and not falling into the wrong hands.

The report said officials with U.S. European Command tried to overcome their inability to track gear by asking the Ukrainians to submit hand receipts and "leveraging intelligence reporting."

Investigators said the combatant command told them that the Ukrainian government was "making a good-faith effort" on their requests but noted that those officials were not able to provide them with any paperwork on the tracking efforts by September.

The rest of the section of the report that covers the topic of hand receipts is heavily redacted, citing "foreign government information" and "intelligence activities." It also notes that, "although intelligence reporting may provide some accountability for large platforms, such as missiles," it is limited in tracking smaller items such as night vision devices.

Other inspector general reports released publicly by the Pentagon in 2023 also found issues with how gear was being tracked as it was being shipped into Poland ahead of being transferred to Ukraine. But that report noted that there was no "evidence of loss, theft or diversion of defense items" ahead of being handed over to the Ukrainians.

Ultimately, the IG in 2022 chose not to make any recommendations on what the Pentagon should do differently because it said defense officials "made some efforts to mitigate the inability to conduct in-person" tracking and monitoring.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: Ukraine Aid Such as Howitzers, Night Vision Goggles Not Properly Tracked by Military

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