Tracing Ammunition Suppliers in Ukraine

    C. J. Chivers investigated the firearm ammunition used by Ukrainian rebels and discovered that they are exactly the ammunition you would expect to find in Ukrainian military stockpiles or in the inventory of the arms dealers who pillaged Ukrainian stockpiles after the Soviet collapse. Chivers reports at the NY Times

    With its independence in 1991, Ukraine inherited a huge and unneeded stockpile of arms and ordnance from its former Soviet masters. In the years since, the country’s businessmen, security services and cargo carriers, operating in an environment plagued by corruption, have repeatedly been accused of trafficking the surplus in black-market arms deals to Africa and the Middle East. So it was little surprise that this year, after fighting broke out, that Ukraine felt the sting of what had been its own shadowy trade. Exactly the sort of weapons it has long exported found bloody use on Ukrainian soil.

    The presence of the ammunition from multiple Soviet factories that were busily manufacturing standard ammunition for Soviet rifles in the late Soviet period aligns neatly with historical factors at play in Ukraine. Put simply, these rounds, along with the samples from Luhansk, carried the headstamps one would expect in Ukrainian military arsenals and in the unregistered stockpiles from the Soviet collapse.

    It is well worth reading the article in full. I was reminded of the the movie Lord of War (2005). At one point the Ukrainian born arms dealer Yuri Olav (Nic Cage) visits his uncle, a Ukrainian general in Odessa, and purchases the majority of his small arms stockpile.

    Ukraine stockpile scene from Lord of War

    Ukraine stockpile scene from Lord of War

    From the Lord of War script …


    Crates of machine guns from floor to ceiling. DMITRI gives YURI a
    tour of the armory.

    How many Kalashnikovs do you have?

    (referring to the inventory in
    his hand)

    (looking over Dmitri’s shoulder)
    Is that a “4”? It doesn’t look like a “4”
    to me. It looks more like a “1”.

    (missing the point)
    No, it’s a “4”.

    It’s whatever we say it is because no one
    else knows the difference.

    Dmitri finally gets it. Yuri examines a Kalashnikov.

    YURI (cont’d)
    10,000 Kalashnikovs for a battalion. Your
    stocks are dangerously depleted, Dmitri.
    You should order more from the factory.

    This is too much for Dmitri. He stops, confronts Yuri – takes back
    the AK-47 Yuri is inspecting.

    Someone will work this out, Yuri. What
    happens then?

    We’ll cut them in. Anyway, what could
    happen – you’re the luckiest man alive.


    The sun sets over a grassy field. YURI sits alone – closely
    inspects a Kalashnikov.

    It is a strange moment between a man and his favorite gun.

    As we hear Yuri’s thoughts, we are treated to lovingly shot close
    ups of the weapon and its features often seen in slow motion: Sun
    glistening off the chromed barrel. Folding metal stock arcing
    elegantly into place. Precise docking of the 30-round curved

    YURI (V.O.)
    Avtomat Kalashnikova, model of 1947 – more
    commonly known as the AK-47 or Kalashnikov.
    It’s the world’s most popular assault ritle
    – a weapon all fighters love. An elegantly
    simple nine pound amalgamation of forged
    steel and molded plastic. It doesn’t break,
    jam or over-heat. It will shoot whether its
    covered in mud or filled with sand. It’s so
    easy, even a child can use it. And they do.
    The Russians put the gun on a coin.
    Mozambique put it on their flag. Since the
    end of the Cold War, the Kalashnikov has
    become the Russian peoples’ greatest export
    – after that comes vodka and suicidal
    novelists. One thing’s for sure, no one was
    lining up to buy their cars.

    (IMFDB reports that the guns in this scene were actually SA Vz.58 rifles rented from an arms dealers. It was cheaper to rent 3,000 real Vz.58 rifles than purchase replica AKs)

    Thanks to Trev for the tip.

    Steve Johnson

    I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!