American weapons provided to Ukraine have been captured by Russia on the battlefield, a top Department of Defense official told Congress on Tuesday. Over the past year, Washington has provided Kiev with nearly $45 billion in military aid.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl claimed Moscow was capturing American weapons and selling them on the black market. “Our assessment is if some of these systems have been diverted it’s by Russians who have captured things on the battlefield, which always happens,” he said.
After Russian forces invaded Ukraine just over a year ago, the Joe Biden administration began providing Kiev with unprecedented weapons transfers. The US has provided Ukraine with $44.3 billion in military assistance from January 24, 2022, to January 15, 2023, according to The Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
Kahl went on to assert that “no evidence” has surfaced to suggest Kiev was responsible for the weapons finding their way to the black market.
In the early months of the war, CNN reported that the US lacked oversight over the arms sent to Ukraine. A source told the outlet in April, “we have fidelity for a short time, but when it enters the fog of war, we have almost zero. It drops into a big black hole, and you have almost no sense of it at all after a short period of time.”
That same month, Jonas Ohman, founder and CEO of Blue-Yellow, a Lithuania-based organization that has been meeting with and supplying frontline units with military aid in Ukraine told CBS News, “All of this stuff goes across the border, and then something happens, kind of like 30% of it reaches its final destination.”
In May, the Washington Post reported Ukraine is infamous for black market weapon sales. “The US government is well aware of the country’s challenges with weapons proliferation, though it has been vague in describing the precautions it’s taking,” the outlet wrote.
Kahl was confronted by Congressman Matt Gaetz over the weapons ending up in the hands of neo-Nazis. Gaetz cited a 2018 article from Global Times that found American arms were being used by the Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi militia that was absorbed into Ukraine’s national guard. Kahl dismissed Gaetz’s question by asserting the claim was “Beijing’s propaganda.”
The Azov Battalion has been photographed with Western-made anti-tank weapons. In March, NEXTA tweeted, “A shipment of NLAW grenade launchers and instructors from #NATO countries arrived in Kharkiv. The Azov regiment was the first to learn about new weaponry.” The post included photos of Ukrainian soldiers wearing Nazi patches on their uniforms.
In July, the Stimson Center – an American organization – warned US arms could flow to “avowed neo-Nazis.” “[The Azov Battalion’s] role in key Ukrainian theatres creates risks that arms could be diverted to Azov troops in contravention of US law,” the report said.
Kahl claimed the weapons are tracked by Ukraine with scanners provided by Washington, and the data is transferred to American officials at the embassy in Kiev. He added the officials complete some inspections outside of the embassy.
Additionally, Kahl discussed the White House’s strategy for its proxy war in Ukraine. He said the Department of Defense does not believe Russian forces will make significant territorial gains in the coming months. “You may see small portions of territory change hands in the coming weeks and months.” He told Congress, “I do not think that there’s anything I see that suggests the Russians can sweep across Ukraine and make significant territorial gains anytime in the next year or so.”
He explained that the Biden administration was committed to arming Ukraine, though the timetable for providing fighter jets was at least a year and a half. Kahl added that the price tag to provide Kiev with F-16s was $11 billion and the fighter jet was not one of Ukraine’s “top three priorities.”