The Russian military in the Donbas has been using UK produced sniper rifles against the Armed Forces of Ukraine for the past two years. At the same time, the British government has never permitted the export of these weapons to Moscow. These are the investigation results made public by the British TV channel Sky News.
The journalists found a British sniper rifle in one of the videos released by the Joint Forces Command in the spring of 2020. It was shot in the village of Donetsk (Luhansk region), which at the time of the shooting was under the militants’ control.
The investigators claim that one of the militants recorded in the video is probably a Russian Federal Security Service representative. The camouflage typical for the Russian secret services points to this. In his hands, there was a weapon which corresponds to the AX338 sniper rifle, manufactured by the British company Accuracy International.
Journalists managed to find at least one more example of the same rifle usage by militants in Donbas – in a Russian TV channel “NTV” story in 2019. Besides, similar samples of small arms have been seen with Syrian forces backed by Moscow and in the presidential guard in the Kremlin.
In response to a request from Sky News, the British government stated that it had not permitted the sale of these British weapons models to Russian Federation citizens. Earlier, in an interview for the Sunday Express, Accuracy International said it had sold no rifles to Russia since 2000, and that the EU embargo on arms supplies to Russia had been in effect since 2014.
Journalists note that their investigation raises serious questions about how Russia received the rifles and whether it happened through a third party without the awareness of the British government. Currently, experts suggest that the Russians most likely received the weapons via the third parties that officially had purchased them for hunting or sports purposes. Meanwhile, the government has no exact idea of how many weapons of domestic production are exported.
“There is no way to track this if weapons sale takes place, despite the repeated statements by the government that Great Britain has one of the most ‘reliable’ and ‘transparent’ weapons licensing systems in the world,” the investigation stated.
The Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood told Sky News that British-made rifles were in the hands of Russian troops is a matter of concern. So, his committee plans to investigate Britain’s arms sales.
“This is worrying and shows the complexity of the international arms trade,” Ellwood said and added, “We have a state that has an arms embargo and uses an armaments system developed and purchased here in Britain.”
The Bellingcat, The Guardian and Lighthouse Reports also participated in the Sky News investigation. According to the journalists, they examined all their data with the conclusions of the experts who specialise in weapons.