Russian organized crime groups, Ukrainian crooks and unauthorized volunteer battalions obtained or stole weapons from Department of Defense (DOD) security aid meant to arm the Ukrainian military for its defense against Russia, according to an inspector general report obtained by Military.com.
The report, revealed only after the outlet submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, shows how U.S. efforts to meet end-use goals for billions in security assistance donated throughout 2022 often failed, according to Military.com. While Ukraine’s security service intervened in most cases, little or no accountability existed on the U.S. side, allowing weapons to be diverted to criminals and opposition forces in violation of U.S. law.
“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 DOD Inspector General report.
The report covers weapons sent between February 2022, when the war started, and September, marking the end of the fiscal year.
In one instance, a Russian-backed criminal gang in Ukraine obtained a grenade launcher and machine gun, among other systems, Military.com reported, citing the watchdog’s audit. An “unspecified Russian official” directed members to join a volunteer fighting group using forged identity documents.
“The perceived intent of the group was to conduct destabilizing activities,” the report said, according to Military.com. Although it does not directly say the gear came from U.S. stocks, context around the document’s many redactions suggests they originated from the U.S.
A Ukrainian outlaw group illegally imported bullet-resistant vests while posing as a humanitarian organization and sold the equipment, the report found. Members of a Ukrainian volunteer battalion stole 60 rifles and nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition, also likely for sale on the black market.
In most cases, U.S. forces could not determine where weapons ended up once they were transferred from aircraft at waystations near the Ukrainian border. By the summer of 2022, Ukrainian police were regularly apprehending criminal groups operating heavy weaponry that originated from the U.S. aid, according to the report.
Much of the report is redacted, citing “foreign government information” and “intelligence activities,” according to Military.com.
By Sept. 28, the U.S. had committed $16.2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since February 2022, including thousands of Stinger and Javelin missiles, howitzers, grenade launchers, C-4 explosives and more than 60 million rounds of small-arms ammunition as well as several larger systems, according to a DOD fact sheet.
The Biden Administration announced comprehensive efforts to track security assistance on Oct. 28, and inspectors authorized to conduct site visits did not arrive until November. Reach remained limited, and ongoing end-use monitoring still largely depends on Ukrainian troops to digitally document the destination of U.S. aid.
An October 2022 IG report found deficiencies in DOD’s end use monitoring program. Yet, officials told Congress at a hearing in February that DOD had not identified any clear instances of illicit weapons diversion in Ukraine.
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