Lithuania’s aid to Ukraine since the outbreak of the war in Donbas
@DFRLab recently provided surveys of Western nations, including the United States and Bulgaria, who have authorized lethal weapon exports to Ukraine since the conflict in the country’s east began in 2014. While a number of countries have authorized the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine, only one has officially completed the transfer of lethal aid to Ukraine: Lithuania.
Back in November 2014, Lithuania announced it was providing “armaments” to Ukraine as aid, rather than by sales. Through 2018, Lithuania was the only country that provided lethal weapons as aid, with multiple shipments or planned shipments of various weapons, including heavy machine guns, over 100 tons of ammunition, mortars, and thousands of rifles.
Overall aid received and planned
Since the start of the war in eastern Ukraine, Lithuania sent or promised a litany of lethal aid to Ukraine, along with numerous shipments of non-lethal aid. Between the November 2014 announcement and the end of 2016, Lithuanian shipments of lethal aid mostly included heavy machine guns and ammunition, which were no longer used by the Lithuanian army after it transitioned to NATO standards.
The Baltic nation underscored how the aid sent to Ukraine was “no longer used” by the Lithuanian army and were provided “free of charge”, as detailed in a September 2016 statement from the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense (MoD). The Lithuanian MoD also highlighted that it was providing this aid due to “Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine” and due to how Lithuania “actively supports Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity.” The weapons transfer in September 2016 included “about 150 tons” of ammunition, most of which were for Soviet-era assault rifles.
Also in 2016, Lithuania sent 146 heavy machine guns to Ukraine, as recorded in the United Nations Register for Conventional Arms. Of these 146 weapons, 60 were KPVT 14.5mm heavy machine guns (which are often fitted in the ubiquitous BTR-80), and 86 were DShK 12.7mm heavy machine guns. Both of these Soviet-made weapons were already in use by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Thus, the transfer from Lithuania to Ukraine was another instance of the Baltic nation unloading its older, non-NATO compliant weapons to Ukraine to bolster its existing armaments.
In November 2017, the Lithuanian MoD announced that it planned on sending additional lethal aid to Ukraine, including “7,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, almost 2 million cartridges, more than 80 machine guns, several mortars, anti-tank weapons,” totaling nearly two million euros in all. The types of mortars and anti-tank weapons are unclear, but the remaining segments of the list are in line with previous Lithuanian aid to Ukraine, focusing on Soviet-era weapons that are no longer used by Lithuanian soldiers.
Use of these weapons during the conflict
Though we can trace the use, or lack of use, of other Western-provided weapons to Ukraine, such as Bulgarian or American RPGs with distinctive markings, it remains far more difficult to measure the use of Lithuanian weapons during the war. All parties of the conflict, including the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Russian Armed Forces, and so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, use the weapons that have been sent from Lithuania to Ukraine as lethal aid, including the AK-47 (Kalashnikov) assault rifle and the DShK and KPVT heavy machine guns.
We do not need to look far to find instances of casualties incurred by these types of weapons. Just two weeks ago, a Ukrainian soldier posted a message on Facebook detailing a battle near the village of Travneve, just north of Russian-led separatist-controlled Debaltseve. During this battle, Ukrainian soldiers used a DShK heavy machine gun at a distance of almost three kilometers to kill a Russian/separatist fighter. The soldier posted:
The DShK machine gun, at a distance of 2,700 meters and through gusts of wind, hit the target exactly in one shot.
One Ukrainian soldier also died in the skirmish.
Ongoing Lithuanian-Ukrainian cooperation
Lithuania has arguably been Ukraine’s strongest military partner since the beginning of the war in the Donbas, providing both lethal and non-lethal aid free of charge. Along with material aid, Lithuanian soldiers have also trained alongside Ukrainian forces, including at training missions with American and Polish troops.
For example, in October 2015, the Lithuanian Armed Forces shared a number of photographs showing a training program using rifles and heavy machine guns that took place in Ukraine.
Additionally, trilateral training exercises have been conducted between Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine through a multinational brigade. In February 2016, the three countries participated in the “Brave Band” training exercise in Lublin.
Cooperation between the three countries continues with the Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian Brigade, including in defense workshops that took place just last week.
With the multinational brigade formed with Ukraine and Poland, as well as its status as the only country to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, Lithuania distinguished its support for Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia and the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Ukraine has long pointed to Lithuania as a model ally, hoping to convince other European and Western nations, namely the United States, to provide similar support.
Thus far, the West has moved closer to the “Lithuanian model” since the Minsk II agreements went into effect, but most have not moved further than approving weapon export licenses, as opposed to outright aid, for lethal arms. Last month, Canada and the United States approved new weapon exports to Ukraine, but these weapons — including modernized rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-tank missile systems, and sniper rifles — are more technologically advanced and expensive than the non-NATO-compliant weapons sent by Lithuania.
In 2018, the United States is expected to become the second nation to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, as the newly-announced deliveries to Ukraine will be funded through money previously appropriated by the United States Congress.
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