Country Risk

Russian aid convoy committed wide-scale looting, says Ukraine

27 August 2014
Trucks from Russia's 'aid convoy' returning to Russia at the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, on 23 August. Ukrainian shipping specialists have asserted that more than twice as many trucks were used than were needed for the aid they were purportedly carrying. Source: AP/PA

Ukrainian authorities have charged Russian Kamaz military trucks - painted white and then sent illegally into Ukraine for what Moscow had called a "humanitarian relief convoy" to cities in the eastern region - with being a cover for wide-scale looting of defence plants before returning to Russian territory.

Overhead photos on numerous websites show the trucks parked outside some of these looted facilities, which include the Topaz Holding Company in the city of Donetsk, the Lugansk Cartridge Works (LCW), and one of the satellite production facilities of the Motor Sich aero-engine production association.

These plants appear to have been put on a Russian intelligence 'target list' of Ukrainian defence production sites that have strategic significance for Russia's own defence industrial base and were to be stripped of hardware and production documentation while the areas in which they were located were still under the control of the Moscow-trained and -supplied militias that are fighting the Ukrainian military.

The Topaz plant had been under surveillance by Russian intelligence for some weeks and had survived previous attempts at being raided by Moscow-backed armed insurgents in the Donetsk area.

In June the Ukrainian state arms export and defence industrial agency, Ukroboronprom, reported that "up to 20 armed terrorists are trying to seize special machinery and vehicles of the Topaz Plant. In particular, armed men are preparing to take several radio-electronic warfare complexes [tentatively seven] of the Mandat type. They said they want to send them to Russia".

The Topaz plant also produces the Kolchuga-M passive electronic support measures (ESM) system, which became famous in 2002 when the US State Department accused Ukraine's then-president, Leonid Kuchma, with authorising its illegal sale to Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Among the plants visited by Russian trucks and looted were:

- the Yunost plant in the city of Krasnodon, which was raided by what has been described as at least six trucks that removed a large portion of the plant's production hardware, including a recently acquired complement of new, Japanese-made machine tools. The plant had been almost the sole production facility for specialised components for numerous missile and aerospace manufacturing lines.

- the Motor Sich satellite plant in the city of Snezhnoye, which produces blades and discs for aircraft turbojets and is the only plant in all of the former Soviet Union that makes turbine blades. The cut-off of all co-operation between Ukrainian and Russian defence enterprises ordered in June by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was considered to be a major blow to several major Russian aerospace firms. The Russian Helicopters holding company depends on Motor Sich to supply most of the engines used in the aircraft it produces.

Prior to the Russian "humanitarian relief" convoy being sent across the border, Ukrainian security professionals who specialise in overland cargo shipping analysed the full list of items being sent into Ukraine and determined that a maximum of 130 trucks would be needed to transport these supplies.

In fact, almost 280 trucks were in the convoy sent into eastern Ukraine, which had the Ukrainian specialists asking at the time what the extra 150 trucks were to be used for.

Russia has a history of stripping down industrial facilities in areas it has occupied and then transporting what it finds useful back to its own territory, according to former Ukrainian intelligence officials who spoke to IHS Jane's , citing the actions of the Soviet army in the eastern region of Germany, Czechoslovakia, and other states at the end of the Second World War.

"The Russians also shipped as many military assets as they possibly could out of Ukraine and back into Russia in the late 1980s as they saw the USSR falling apart," said one former senior military intelligence officer. "It seems they have now used the cover of this convoy to sweep up whatever they believe they missed back then."

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