Ukrainian servicemen drive a M113 armored personnel carrier away from Bakhmut on March 20, 2023. Ukraine has been given M113s by the United States and Spain, but has also purchased them from Belgium and elsewhere.

Ukrainian servicemen drive a M113 armored personnel carrier away from Bakhmut on March 20, 2023. Ukraine has been given M113s by the United States and Spain, but has also purchased them from Belgium and elsewhere. ARIS MESSINIS / AFP via Getty Images

Import records illuminate Ukraine’s desperate hunt for arms and ammo

Kyiv is paying exorbitant prices for Soviet-designed materiel, and has even managed to obtain Swiss ammo despite Geneva's ban.

Two purchases of Swiss ammunition for Ukraine appear to violate Geneva’s prohibition on such transfers, while other Ukrainian arms deals have been concluded at exorbitant prices. That’s according to Ukrainian import records that illustrate Kyiv’s desperate hunt for defense materiel for its fight against Russian invaders.

In July alone, Ukrainian entities imported at least $346,067,021 worth of ammunition, including Soviet-designed munitions from factories in eastern Europe, according to Ukrainian documents gathered by Import Genius, an aggregator of trade data. These deals are unrelated to the billions of dollars in military aid provided by the U.S. and other supporters.

The documents show at least two Ukrainian imports of Swiss-made ammunition.

On July 14, Ukrainian Armor, an armored-vehicle-and-munition company, took receipt of 500,000 .308 Winchester rifle cartridges and 145,000 .338 Lapua Magnum rifle cartridges, according to documents for the .308 rounds (Google translation) and the .338 rounds (Google translation). The records designate both rounds as armor-piercing. The .338 round is designed for long-range sniping, according to its manufacturer.

The import records show that the ammunition was made by SwissP Defence, a Swiss company whose website says it specializes in the military and law enforcement market. The rounds were delivered by Polish defense importer UMO to Ukrainian Armor, a privately-held defense manufacturer that is reportedly one of the largest private suppliers of the Ukrainian military.  

Switzerland has banned shipments of munitions to both Russia and Ukraine. The hotly debated embargo previously prevented Germany from sending Swiss-made 35mm ammunition for Gepard anti-aircraft guns sent to Ukraine. 

In June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked the Swiss parliament to end the ban, calling it “vital” to allow re-export of weapons to Ukraine. The parliament’s upper house has supported lifting the ban but its lower house has consistently voted against it, most recently in late September. 

The Swiss-made rifle ammunition, however, is just a small part of a vast supply of defense goods that Ukraine has purchased from arms companies and third-party arms dealers, the import records show. 

Other shipments included the sale of 50 M113B AIFV armored personnel carriers in multiple shipments from Belgium, which have since been spotted on the battlefield. The sale is documented across 50 separate import declarations like this one (Google translation). 

The transfer was managed not by a country, however, but by Global Military Products, a third-party arms dealer. 

Based in Florida, the company has processed arms and ammo worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Ukraine, working both directly with Kyiv and as a contractor to the U.S. government. The company’s founder was previously recorded by the FBI discussing bribery in a since-dropped corruption case. 

Ukraine’s hunger for combat vehicles, particularly amid preparations for its mid-2023 counter-offensive, also led it to buy 30 M113A3 infantry fighting vehicles in multiple shipments in July from private U.S. dealer International Parts Supply Corporation. This sale is also documented in multiple import declarations, like this one (Google translation).

Bulgaria, whose vast arms industry is still churning out Soviet-designed munitions, is among the largest suppliers of arms to Ukraine listed in Import Genius records. 

In July, Ukraine took receipt of 131 shipments of Bulgarian munitions, for a total value of over $90 million. Many of these were delivered by Polish arms-export companies, confirming previous reporting that Russian-leaning Bulgaria was sending weapons through Poland rather than shipping directly.

Other top sources include Romania, for a total of $22 million; the Czech Republic ($20 million); and Turkey ($22 million).

Such purchases often come at exorbitant cost, unlike the weapons delivered free of charge as military aid from the U.S. and its allies.  

On July 5, Ukraine received 1,000 152mm shells for its aging Soviet-designed weapons from a Bulgarian arms manufacturer via Poland’s Government Strategic Reserves Agency. The invoice price is listed (Google translation)as 110,667,265 hryvnia, or about $3,000 a shell. 

That appears to be roughly triple what Russia is paying per shell, experts said. Pavel Luzin, a specialist on Russia’s military at the Jamestown Foundation, estimated that Russia pays around $1,000 or more for the typical 152mm shell. That’s a good estimate, agreed Dean Lockwood, an analyst at Forecast International, a sister brand of Defense One.

Russia paid Iran at most $1,190 for 152mm rounds in a September 2022 deal, according to documents viewed by Sky News obtained from an unidentified security source.

Ukraine paid a lower rate for less-powerful 122mm artillery rounds, but still about one-third more than equivalent Russian rounds, documents note.

On July 3, Ukraine received 6,144 122mm rounds manufactured by Bulgarian arms giant VMZ for $1,196 each in multiple shipments. The rounds were delivered to Ukrainian state arms importer Progress by Polish arms trader Alfa, according to import records (Google translation). 

On July 13, Ukraine’s Defense Procurement Agency received 2,472 rounds of Czech-made 122mm in multiple shipments for $1,140 apiece from Czech firm STV Group. This deal is documented in import declarations like this one (Google translation).  

Russia, by contrast, bought 122mm shells at a maximum price of $726 from Iran, according to the Sky News documents. One Russian news outlet put the price of a 122mm shell at $500 or more.

Pavel Beran, director of Special Projects at STV Group, said his company seeks to sell its wares at “fair and competitive prices that correspond to the current market situation.” Beran said a shortage of components has made supplying munitions “very challenging over the last almost two years” and said the company is working to increase ammunition production.  

Among the priciest rounds listed in the documents were unguided 122mm rockets, which Ukraine fires in volleys of up to 40 from Grad launchers. One July 18 shipment from Polish company Alfa to Ukrainian state arms importer Progress lists an invoice price equivalent to $5,434 for each round, which were made by Bulgarian arms firm VMZ, per import records (Google translation). 

Iranian prices for similar rounds were $1,860 a round. 

The price discrepancy is in keeping with reporting by Ukrainska Pravda that Ukraine was buying munitions from Bulgaria, with Alfa and Progress acting as intermediaries. Ukrainska Pravda found that many of the goods sold by Alfa to Ukraine were never delivered or were defective. 

The newspaper further found that 122mm shells sold to Ukraine by Alfa via Progress were 57 percent more expensive than direct sales between Alfa and the Ukrainian government. The newspaper reported that the price from Alfa was 760 euros, while the price via Progress was 1,195 euros, with the contract signed in late April. 

The deal between Progress and Alfa was overseen by Oleksandr Myronyuk, a Ukrainian official who was found to have $1 million hidden in a sofa during a search. 

While Ukrainska Pravda did not publish the source of their information, Defense One’s data from Import Genius shows the same companies, Alfa and Progress, processing deliveries of the same munitions for the same price as listed as Ukrainska Pravda.

Defense One has requested comment from the embassy of Switzerland in the United States and from company officials at SwissP, UMO, and Alfa. None had responded by publication time.