After spending $18 billion in just eight months, the US is preparing to ‘track’ Javelin and Stinger missiles. But are these plans just an inept excuse to get ‘inspector’s’ boots on the ground?
Photo: A Ukrainian soldier holding a Javelin missile system. (Image via the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine)
02 November 2022 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News
Following months of pressure from arms control groups, the State Department released its first detailed plan on how it intends to stop U.S. weapons from being diverted away from their intended use in Ukraine.
The new policy focuses on one major area: stopping the illegal trade of powerful yet portable weapons like Javelin and Stinger missile systems, which could be used by non-state groups to destroy large vehicles or even shoot down commercial planes.
The multi-year plan sets out to train Ukrainians on how to keep track of such weapons, bolster border security to stop smuggling, and work with Ukraine’s neighbors on how to identify and stop illicit weapons sales.
Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Center welcomed the policy as a first step, noting that “these are things that should be written into all weapons transfer agreements.” But she lamented that the plan does nothing to address small arms, which can have a major impact in war.
“A small number of small arms and light weapons can cause enormous lethality or deadly consequences but also can change the course of a particular conflict,” Stohl said, noting that guns smuggled out of Ukraine in the 1990s sometimes played a decisive role in civil wars and other conflicts. Washington has sent 10,000 guns or grenade launchers and 64 million rounds of small arms ammunition to Kyiv since February, according to the Pentagon.
The narrow focus on missiles seems to be part of a trend in Washington, where concerns about the proliferation of small arms have fallen on deaf ears in recent years. Notably, that pattern has held under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
For example, President Joe Biden has so far kept in place Trump-era measures that make it harder for the public to track where U.S. small arms are being sold despite protests from civil society groups.
When it comes to Ukraine, questions of potential diversion are complex. Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has earned a reputation as a major node in the illicit weapons trade. Concerns about diversion have grown in recent years as a low-scale conflict has flooded the country with small, relatively easy to smuggle weapons.
Arms control experts worry about this proliferation within Ukraine, but many note that there have been few verifiable examples of these weapons winding up outside of the country, which they attribute to the fact that many people who acquire weapons would prefer to keep them while the country remains at war. And, despite periodic reports of U.S. weapons ending up on the black market in recent months, there is no evidence of widespread diversion since the Russian invasion in February.
But there’s simply no easy way to keep track of a sudden influx of billions of dollars worth of weapons.
As a Pentagon Inspector General report from 2020 notes, monitoring practices suffered when American defense aid to Kyiv went from $30 million in 2013 to $400 million in 2019.
With U.S. military aid totaling about $18 billion in just the past eight months (and a brutal war in progress), serious questions remain about how the United States will be able to prevent diversion.
And concerns go beyond fueling the global black market for weapons. As Jordan Cohen of the Cato Institute noted, internal proliferation of small arms could allow a rebel group to emerge if the conflict continues to drag on, especially if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky loses the support of far-right groups like the Azov Battalion. Such a possibility could extend the war by allowing hard-line groups to play spoiler in future negotiations.
“If he loses control of those groups, then I think you’re gonna start seeing those groups kind of creating their own military units, and that’s dangerous,” Cohen said.
In the end, only time will tell whether the United States has placed enough protections in place to ensure that its weapons don’t fall into the hands of bad actors. As Stohl argued, the highest risk of diversion will come after the war reaches its conclusion, and Washington needs to be ready when that moment comes.
“I would imagine that we will see significant diversion after the conflict ends,” she said. “But you have to put the structures in place [to fight diversion] now.”
US Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder acknowledged during an official briefing yesterday that active-duty US military personnel are not only deployed inside of Ukraine, but are operating far away from the US embassy in Kiev.
The day before, an unnamed US Department of Defense official said at a background briefing that “U.S. personnel” had “resumed on-site inspections to assess weapon stocks” in Ukraine.
Reporting on this announcement, NBC News noted that “these inspectors in Ukraine appear to be some of the first members of the U.S. military to re-enter the Eastern European country since the start of the war, outside of military guards posted at the U.S. Embassy…”
During Tuesday’s on-camera briefing, Travis Tritten of military.com asked, “The military has personnel inside of Ukraine, who are doing weapons inspections now. I’m wondering what the rules of engagement for those personnel are if they are fired on by the Russians or they are targeted by the Russians.”
Ryder replied, “We do have small teams that are comprised of embassy personnel that are conducting some inspections of security assistance delivery at a variety of locations.”
“My understanding is that they would be well far away from any type of frontline actions, we are relying on the Ukrainians to do that, we are relying on other partners to do that…. They’re not going to be operating on the front lines.”
He continued, “We’ve been very clear there are no combat forces in Ukraine, no US forces conducting combat operations in Ukraine, these are personnel that are assigned to conduct security cooperation and assistance as part of the defense attaché office.”
To this, Tritten replied, “But this would be different because they would be working outside the embassy. I would just ask if people should read this as an escalation.”
Ryder claimed that the US action was not escalatory, and simply refused to answer Tritten’s question about what the US would do if any active-duty US troops were killed.
Especially over the past weeks, Russia has expanded its targeting of logistics sites throughout Ukraine, with weapons depots being a major target. What will be the consequence if these US troops, serving as liaisons for the coordination of logistics and weapons shipments, are targeted, including inadvertently, by Russia?
The fact that the massive funneling of arms into Ukraine by the US and NATO powers now requires the deployment of military personnel in Ukraine explodes the fiction that the US is not directly involved in the conflict, and is also revealing about the forces with which the US is allied.
To date, the United States has sent more than $50 billion in military and economic assistance to Ukraine. Having financed and supplied the war, the US wants to make sure it has direct control over where the weapons have ended up and how they are being used. This is part of the conflict within the American political establishment in advance of the midterm elections.
The US military and State Department are also concerned that advanced weapons may end up in the hands of elements within Ukraine that may use them in a way that Washington has not approved beforehand.
The Pentagon’s statements followed the release of a report by the State Department on its plans to “Counter Illicit Diversion of Certain Advanced Conventional Weapons in Eastern Europe.”
The report referred to “a variety of criminal and non-state actors [who] may attempt to acquire weapons from sources in Ukraine during or following the conflict, as occurred after the Balkan Wars in the 1990s.”
“Criminal” actors, however, are embedded in the Ukrainian military, particularly in the form of the fascistic Azov Batallion, which is playing a frontline role in the war against Russia and whose leaders have been brought to Washington and feted by Congressmen, Democrat and Republican alike.
The open secret is that the actual US force presence in Ukraine is far greater even than that admitted by the Pentagon on Tuesday.
In October, veteran journalist James Risen reported that the Biden administration had authorized the clandestine deployment of US Special Forces in Ukraine. “Clandestine American operations inside Ukraine are now far more extensive than they were early in the war,” wrote Risen.
Secret U.S. operations inside Ukraine are being conducted under a presidential covert action finding, current and former officials said. The finding indicates that the president has quietly notified certain congressional leaders about the administration’s decision to conduct a broad program of clandestine operations inside the country. One former special forces officer said that Biden amended a preexisting finding, originally approved during the Obama administration, that was designed to counter malign foreign influence activities.
In July, the New York Times reported that dozens of US ex-military personnel are operating on the ground in Ukraine and that retired senior US officers are directing portions of the Ukrainian war effort from within the country.
US forces are intimately involved in all aspects of Ukrainian military operations, having helped provide intelligence for the strike that sunk the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet, in April, and for Ukrainian strikes that have killed Russian generals.
The announcement comes amidst a major escalation of the war over the past month. Following military setbacks in both Northern and Southern Ukraine, Russia has mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists, annexed four regions of Ukraine, and threatened the use of nuclear weapons to defend them.
A series of major provocative actions targeting Russia have massively increased tensions, including the bombing of the Nord Stream gas pipelines, for which Russia has blamed the UK, as well as the assassination of Russian far-right ideologue Daria Dugina and the bombing of the Kerch Bridge, which the New York Times reported were carried out by Ukrainian forces.
Over the weekend, Ukraine carried out an attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the Times reported, which prompted Russia to withdraw from its grain agreement with Ukraine, threatening to escalate the global food crisis.
Under these conditions, forces within the US, including admiral James Stavridis, have renewed calls for more direct US intervention, including in the form of the dispatch of warships to the Black Sea.
31 October 2022 | Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press
A small number of U.S. military forces inside Ukraine have recently begun doing onsite inspections to ensure that Ukrainian troops are properly accounting for the Western-provided weapons they receive, a senior U.S. defense official told Pentagon reporters Monday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide a military update, would not say where the inspections are taking place or how close to the battlefronts the U.S. troops are getting. The official said U.S. personnel can’t do inspections “close to the front lines,” but said they are going where security conditions allow.
The official said there have been several inspections, and they are being done by the U.S. Defense attache and the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation team that is in Kyiv. So far, the official said, Ukrainian officials have been transparent about the weapons’ distribution and are supporting the inspections.
The effort is part of a broader U.S. campaign, announced last week by the State Department, meant to make sure that weapons provided to Ukraine don’t end up in the hands of Russian troops, their proxies or other extremist groups.
Earlier this year, the U.S. said a small number of U.S. military troops had returned to the embassy in Kyiv to do security and other tasks. U.S. President Joe Biden has ruled out any combat role for U.S. forces inside Ukraine.
U.S. officials have faced persistent questions from some members of Congress over how the administration is accounting for the billions of dollars in arms that have been sent to Ukraine over the past year. But the administration had been reluctant to detail its work on that front due to concerns about the state of the conflict and fears it might tip off would-be smugglers to potential evasion techniques.
The State Department plan includes short-, medium- and longer-term initiatives to bolster U.S. and Ukrainian oversight of transferred weapons, particularly more advanced missile systems and anti-aircraft devices, as well as to improve Ukraine’s aviation and border security to combat the misuse of weapons and prevent possible arms trafficking.
The State Department said that so far Ukraine’s intense demand for weapons on the battlefield appears to be impeding black-market proliferation of small arms, portable air defense systems and anti-tank weapons such as Javelins. It said the main problem has been the seizure of weapons by Russian forces as they take ground, and warned that Moscow can use them to develop countermeasures or conduct false-flag operations.
The inspections are being conducted by US military personnel based at the US embassy in Kyiv
Dave DeCamp Posted on | AntiWar.com
A Pentagon official told reporters on Monday that US military personnel have recently begun onsite inspections of US-provided weapons inside Ukraine, confirming a small US military presence on the ground.
“US personnel have recently resumed onsite inspections to assess weapon stocks in country whenever and wherever the security conditions allow,” the Pentagon official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The official said that the return of a “defense attaché and Office of Defense Cooperation personnel” to Ukraine has enabled the inspections. Both the defense attaché and Office of Defense Cooperation personnel are based at the US embassy in Kyiv.
Defense attachés are military officers stationed at US embassies that represent the Pentagon’s interests in the country. The Ukrainian government had previously said that defense attaché Brig. Gen. Garrick M. Harmon arrived in the country back in August.
According to the US Embassy in Kyiv’s website, the Office of Defense Cooperation “partners with Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces to provide military equipment, training, familiarization events, and educational opportunities in order to support the modernization of Ukraine’s military and bilateral foreign policy objectives, while engaging at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.”
The Pentagon official did not offer any details about where the onsite inspections are taking place. “In terms of the inspections, I’m not going to get into specific details on locations of where these inspections have taken place,” the official said.
According to The Associated Press, the inspections are part of a broader State Department initiative to ensure weapons sent to Ukraine don’t end up in Russia’s hands or on the black market. But there has been virtually no oversight up to this point, and Finnish authorities said this week that criminal gangs are smuggling arms that have been sent to Ukraine.
The weapons inspectors based at the US Embassy in Kyiv is the only US military presence inside Ukraine that has been confirmed by Washington and demonstrates the US’s growing involvement in the war. The Intercept recently reported that US special operations forces and CIA personnel are also inside the country, but the US hasn’t officially acknowledged the covert campaign.
The State Department says its focus is on stopping Javelin and Stinger missiles from getting on the black market
by Dave DeCamp Posted on | AntiWar.com
After over eight months of pouring tens of billions of dollars worth of weapons into Ukraine, the Biden administration has announced some steps it will take toward oversight of the military aid.
The State Department announced the plan on October 27. It focuses on keeping powerful portable weapons like Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles off the black market. Responsible Statecraft reported that experts are warning the plan has gaps and doesn’t address the issue of smaller arms.
The State Department said in order to achieve its oversight goals, the US will bolster the ability of Ukraine and other regional countries “to account for and safeguard their arms and ammunition,” strengthen borders, and bolster security agencies to “deter, detect, and interdict illicit trafficking of certain advanced conventional weapons.”
Another aspect of the effort is in-person inspections of US weapons inside Ukraine that are being conducted by the US military. The Pentagon revealed on Monday that its personnel has begun conducting these inspections inside the country, marking the first official confirmation of a US military presence on the ground in Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24.
The Pentagon did not provide much detail on where the inspections are taking place but said they are being conducted by personnel based at the US Embassy in Kyiv. Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters on Tuesday that there are US Marines at the embassy conducting guard duties on top of the weapons inspectors.
Ryder also said that the inspectors will not be near the “front lines.” According to media reports, US special operations forces and CIA operatives are also on the ground in Ukraine, but the covert operations have not been officially confirmed by Washington. President Biden had repeatedly said he wouldn’t send troops into Ukraine, which he said before Russia’s invasion could spark a “world war.”
Up to this point, there has been virtually no oversight of the billions in weapons being sent to Ukraine. Finnish law enforcement said earlier this week that they have seen weapons sent to Ukraine ending up in criminal hands in Finland and other countries in the region, including Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. An official from Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation said they’re “going to be dealing with these arms for decades and pay the price here.”