Russia’s recent gains on the battlefield can be attributed in part to a quiet, nearly decade-long sabotage campaign to block Ukraine from vital ammunition supplies, according to several reports.
The tactics include bullying ammunition sellers not to deliver to Ukraine and secretly blowing up depots across Eastern Europe prior to this spring’s invasion, The Washington Post reports, citing Ukraine Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar.
Russia and Ukraine use the same artillery, thanks to their common military hardware that dates back to the Soviet era. It’s a specific type of of ammo, mostly consisting of 122mm and 152mm caliber rounds, which are no longer common in modern warfare.
The Post found that Russia has for years been making sure Ukraine is not only in short supply, but experiencing difficulty resupplying. “Even if everyone gives us this ammunition, it will still not be enough,” Malyar told the paper. Russia pops off around 60,000 rounds a day, which is tenfold more than Ukraine has the capacity to fire back. And since the inventory is so specific, the global supply does not have the capacity to meet Ukraine’s wartime demand.
Weapons brokers who are working to covertly supply Ukraine told the Post that they are being regularly threatened with death if they make deliveries, which has acted as a successful deterrent. In other cases, Russian brokers working undercover outbid Ukraine suppliers, adding a further layer of delay. “The Russians are working very hard to ensure that we can’t sign contracts for this,” Malyar told the Post. “And then if we sign a contract, to prevent us from getting the shells delivered here.”
The campaign to keep Ukrainian weapons in short supply began in 2014, after Russian separatists started fighting. That year, a munitions depot in the Czech Republic was sabotaged, which, at the time was hard to link to the Kremlin. A year later, a Bulgarian weapons executive who was selling artillery to Ukraine was poisoned by the same unit that sabotaged the Czech depot, according to the investigative group Bellingcat.
And Bulgarian prosecutors now believe that four mysterious explosions at arms depots between 2011 and 2020 were sparked by Russia in preparation for the war now in its fourth month.
Similar targeted attacks of weapons depots in Ukraine in 2017 are now thought to be tied to Russia’s shadow war, according to the Post’s reporting.