Status Weapons in Ukraine

As the war rages on in Ukraine, with all the attributes of modern near peer conflict, some things haven’t changed. This includes a concept almost as old as organised conflict itself- the status weapon. For our purposes, status weapon is an item (In recent conflict usually a rifle or pistol, but also including hand-held launchers such as ATGM or MANPADS) that when carried or owned by a particular individual convey a significance that is beyond that of their simple combat utility. This may be for their perceived effectiveness, appearances’ sake or to show command/elite status.

From WW2 to the Islamic State in Mosul, all parties to the conflict have displayed and used status weapons; in the latter case, very heavily interwoven into central messaging policy. Status weapons often have particular significance if they were captured from the opposing side, with the obvious implication of previous victories over the enemy. This is even more significant if the materiel captured is of modern manufacture and was previously solely used by the enemy side, or if it has unique combat effectiveness.

Capture of enemy materiel has taken on a particularly notable media aspect for both sides: for Ukraine the famous “Ukrainian tractor” meme has become a central aspect of messaging in the West- given this involves heavy armour, it does not fit the given definition of a personal status weapon. A casual visit to pro-Russian spaces (Most often Telegram) reveals that Russian and Separatist forces take a great joy in displaying captured western supplies, but these are not often shown in use. The use itself of captured weapons does not imply that they have a particular status, as this may be down to practical reasons (Lack of ammo, having lost issued rifles, etc).

Status weapons that are not captured (Whether issued or personally purchased) may also be used as a mark of seniority or status if they are particularly uncommon or expensive.

In Ukraine, a number of status weapons have appeared with all parties; whether captured, supplied by foreign allies, or conveying a special status to the user. A few examples are detailed below.

Captured Weapons

First, the AK-12. The AK-12 is the latest in the long line of AK-pattern rifles, originally developed in the wake of WW2 by Mikhail Kalashnikov. It is a modernisation of the current service rifle of the Russian armed forces, the AK-74M, but does not represent a radical departure from that design.

Whilst the engineers at the Izhevsk Plant (Now Kalashnikov Concern) had envisaged and developed a major change in the AK design, which was tested and considered for adoption, the final model that was finally adopted in January 2018 represents an incremental improvement on previous rifles. Whilst in theory a modern and efficient rifle, the AK-12 has suffered from quality issues and heavily upgraded AK-74(M) are often preferred by Russian SSO (SOF). The AK-12 is, however, widely used by Russian VDV and recce units as it slowly replaces earlier designs in the Russian army.

It is hence representative of modern Russian weapons used by elite troops and is a valued status weapon- Vitaliy Kim, the popular Governor of Mykolaiv Oblast, and Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, Brigadier General Kyrylo Budanov, have both showed off this rifle deliberately in public media.

As well as this, local TDF fighters and Ukrainian SOF have showed off the platform on social media- although the latter disparage the construction quality.

Another status weapon seen with Ukrainian forces are the suppressed VSS Vintorez designated marksman rifles and AS VAL assault rifles. These fire the 9×39 round, which is famously subsonic, and is a slow, heavy round designed to perform better than the previously used subsonic 7.62×39 ammo, with good body armour penetration. These have not been seen as often as the AK-12, but do appear occasionally with Ukrainian forces.

An even rarer modernisation of the VSS, the VSS-M, has been captured but has not yet appeared with Ukrainian forces. Although Ukrainian forces used the VSS in very small quantities prior to the war, access to stocks of 9×39 ammo was limited- even with capture this situation is unlikely to have changed, making widespread use in combat unlikely.

The PKP Pecheneg, a modernisation of the famous PKM general-purpose machine gun, has also appeared- these are most often used by higher-tier Russian forces, such as the VDV. The PKP has a single major difference to the PKM; the barrel is of a much heavier profile and is not quickly replaceable; hence, reliablity and accuracy is claimed to be improved. The PKP remains uncommon, as the PKM is an extremely effective platform regardless. At least one PKP was captured during the battle for Gostomel Airport, and the type can now be sporadically seen with UA forces; such as Unit 3108 of the National Guard seen in this video.

Western and Donated Weapons

Of course, status weapons are not limited to captured guns. For example, the famous Belgian F2000 bullpup assault rifle has been donated to Ukrainian forces from FN stock; both the classic original F2000 model with an inbuilt magnified opic, and the FN F2000 Tactical, which features a picatinny rail. These are rather rare and have occasionally appeared on camera, most notably in the posession of Alina Mykhailova, a well known former Kyiv City Council deputy, Hospitallers Medical Battalion medic, and paramedic with the 1st Assault Company of the Ukrainian “Right Sector” militia.

Another, rather more common type is imported AR-pattern rifles, such as M4 Carbine, which needs little explanation. Large quantities (At least thousands, although precise numbers are unclear) M4 were supplied by the US, with Colt and FN models seen. Whilst they are not particularly rare, the iconic nature of the M4 means that Ukrainian combatants tend to show them off where ever possible. A related platform, the SIG MCX, only used by the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) is rather less common, for example, and has been intensively used in combat. So far this rifle has not been captured by Russian forces.

As with any other conflict, individual status weapons remain a key element of the media emerging from this conflict and I have attempted to showcase just a few above from the Ukrainian side. As the conflict progresses, and more exotic platforms are donated or captured, no doubt there will be more to come!

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