Mysterious Humvee Has Appeared In Russian Vehicle Convoy Near Ukrainian Border

​​​​​The distinctive vehicle appears to have been captured in eastern Ukraine, but its operator and its current role remain unclear.

byThomas Newdick|
Russia photo


Among the stream of Russian military vehicles gathering around Ukraine’s borders as Russia began sending troops into two separatist areas of the eastern Donbas region earlier this week, one unusual convoy has stood out as peculiar. One especially intriguing item among the diverse selection of vehicles was a U.S.-made High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee, which bears all the hallmarks of a distinct variant used by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Exactly what force is now using the vehicle, and why, is a mystery, but its presence in Russian territory comes as Ukrainian officials warn of possible infiltration by Russian forces in Ukraine.

What little we do know about the unusual convoy comes primarily from Rob Lee, a PhD student and former U.S. Marine focused on researching Russian defense policy. Earlier today, he tweeted a still image from a video of the convoy, apparently located near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, a town in Russia’s Rostov Oblast, in the Southern Federal District that borders Ukraine. We cannot be entirely certain when it was filmed, but it has been precisely geolocated. 

It's immediately clear that one of the vehicles is a Humvee, but what’s particularly interesting is the fact it features the raised roof modification that is a feature of Ukrainian М1097А2s, specifically. This was the result of a local upgrade by the Lviv Machinery and Repair Plant and was originally prepared for use by the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent in Kosovo as part of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR). The original operating unit was reportedly the 95th Independent Airmobile Brigade of the Ukrainian Army.

A U.S. solder repairs a Ukrainian Humvee in Stripe, Kosovo, in October 2001., U.S. Army

While there are unconfirmed reports that this same vehicle modification was also supplied to Poland, Ukraine seems the most likely source of this example, especially considering its location.

Furthermore, we also know that at least some of these Humvees fell into separatist hands during the fighting between Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine during 2014 and 2015. According to Ukrainian accounts, based on open-source intelligence (OSINT), at least one of the Humvees was captured by Russian-backed troops during fighting around Debaltseve and then appeared in Luhansk. The capturing and repurposing of Humvees, as well as other similar light vehicles, is certainly not unheard of, though this particular example is in a distinctly Ukrainian configuration.

Official Ukrainian Ministry of Defense video showing a Humvee near the temporarily occupied territory in eastern Ukraine:

Video thumbnail

It's not inconceivable that this vehicle, or one like, is the same one we can see in the convoy in Rostov Oblast but, again, there is no firm evidence that this is the case. The other vehicles in the convoy are also intriguing, including a BTR-80 armored personnel carrier, some anonymous-looking civilian-type vehicles, and at least one van festooned with antennas, suggesting some kind of communications or electronic warfare role.

The War Zone spoke to Lee, who confirmed his belief in the general accuracy of an account on Russia’s VK social networking service that also identifies the Humvee as the example captured in eastern Ukraine.

Other Ukrainian Humvees are known to have been knocked out or destroyed during the previous fighting and it remains possible that the mystery vehicle we see is one of these that was repaired and returned to action.

This, of course, doesn’t allow us to definitively determine what the Humvee is now doing as part of a convoy in Russia. However, Lee initially suggested that the vehicles could well belong to elements of the Rosgvardia, Russia’s National Guard, which is tasked with roles including securing borders, counter-terrorism, protecting public order, and guarding important state facilities. Important in this context, Rosgvardia answers directly to President Vladimir Putin and it previously absorbed various military and interior ministry Spetsnaz units, and so also has a special operations role.

Rosgvardia troops during the 2018 Moscow Victory Day Parade., Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

The blue camouflage that some of these individuals appear to be wearing is commonly associated with OMON units, special police units within Rosgvardia. We have already seen some evidence of Rosgvardia vehicles in the border areas close to Ukraine, suggesting they are expected to be involved in any wider intervention in that country. 

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev visiting an OMON base in Bryansk in 2011., Kremlin Press Secretary

Subsequently, Lee told us that the troops seen around the vehicles look they could be “[pro-Russian] rebels or irregular forces.” Once again, we simply don’t know for sure at this point.

For the moment, there is no hard evidence that the Humvee in question is related to any kind of irregular forces — in fact, there’s nothing to connect it with any particular unit. Similarly, we have no idea whether or not Russia or Russian-backed forces have any concrete plans to sow confusion behind Ukrainian lines, a type of mission that could potentially make use of captured Ukrainian vehicles and other equipment.

Again, while there is no known connection between the convoy and any potential commando-style raids, or similar activities, it is something that Ukrainian officials have spoken about on the record.

“The Russian intelligence network operating here has been installed a long time ago,” said Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s national security adviser, told the Wall Street Journal recently. “Their mission from the Moscow center is simple: destroy, destroy, destroy. They have no other mission except destroying us as a nation.”

Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of National Security and Defense Council., AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

What is clear, is that the Russian Army, and other Russian military formations, are gathering not only huge numbers of vehicles in the areas around Ukraine, but also an increasingly wide variety of equipment, ranging from tanks to artillery, ballistic missiles, and air defense systems, all the way down to vital logistics vehicles such as fuel trucks

Then there are the true anomalies, like the Humvee, which we will keep an eye out for if or when it pops up again.

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