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American sniper in Ukraine says his unit prefers Soviet-era rifles because bullets are easier to find and they can take them from the Russians

Sinéad Baker   

American sniper in Ukraine says his unit prefers Soviet-era rifles because bullets are easier to find and they can take them from the Russians
  • An American sniper in Ukraine said his unit prefers AK-74 rifles over Western ones.
  • That's partly because they can get more bullets when they attack a Russian position.
An American veteran fighting in Ukraine said soldiers in his unit prefer to use Soviet-era rifles over modern ones because it's easier to find ammunition, including by taking it from the Russians.

Jonathan Poquette is currently serving as a sniper in Ukraine, and he said that his unit prefers AK-74 rifles, which are chambered for 5.45×39mm rounds.

"The reason why our unit in particular preferred the AK-74 platforms is because that weapon system is plentiful for the Ukrainians and Russians."

He said that when you go to a Ukrainian position, they are more likely to have that type of bullet available as many Ukrainians fight with that rifle. Ukraine, once a part of the Soviet Union, fights with a lot of Soviet-era weaponry that has long been in the country.

There are, of course, other ways to get the necessary rifle ammo as well, Poquette said, noting that "if you go and you attack a Russian position and you need to resupply, the Russians are usually going to have 5.45."

Poquette is a member of Chosen Company, a unit of fighters within the Ukrainian army's 59th Motorized Brigade. The force is technically a reconnaissance unit, but it also executes both front-line assault operations and defensive actions. He was injured in January and has been in recovery and training in Kyiv, Ukraine' s capital city, since the incident.

He said that the prolific availability of older rifles among Ukraine's soldiers was also partly an issue with Ukraine's planning.

"The West has donated a lot of Western rifles that use 5.56," Poquette said, referring to the standard 5.56X45 mm NATO round, "but the problem is that the Ukrainians didn't necessarily consolidate those weapon platforms very good in certain areas."

Ukraine has used captured Russian tanks and weaponry for its forces to use them to fight back against Russia's invasion. This has also included ammunition from defeated Russian soldiers, or that fleeing Russians have left behind.

The KalashnikovAK-74 was first designed in the 1970s, and an updated version, the AK-74M, was first adopted by the Russian army in 1991. Per the weapon's manufacturer, the latter is still widely used across the Russian military as a standard service rifle.

The problem with some of the weapons donated by Western countries is that they are often chambered in 5.56, Poquette said, and ammunition from the West has been in pretty short supply lately.

Ukraine's ammunition shortages

Ukraine is suffering from extensive shortages of ammunition and weaponry that have had serious ramifications all along the front lines. The US recently transferred thousands of small arms and about 500,000 rounds of Iranian ammunition taken from smugglers to Ukraine, but it's only a stop-gap measure.

Shortages have been exacerbated by Republicans in the US stalling further aid for the past six months. That's despite most of that money being funding that would go back into the US economy as so many American defense companies would get the work, particularly to replace systems sent to Ukraine.

Soldiers say this means that they have had to ration their ammunition and, in some cases, have had nothing to fire for a day, leaving them unable to hit Russian targets that they can reach. Sometimes when another team takes over a position, the incoming forces will ask for the departing team's ammunition and grenades.

Some of Ukraine's biggest shortages right now are in air defense and artillery, which are leaving cities defenseless and making front-line combat much tougher to sustain.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week that Russia had 10 times as many artillery shells as Ukraine. He said that unless aid from the US resumed, Ukraine would have "no chance of winning." It's a stark warning, one that experts have echoed; Frederick Kagan, the director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, said that if Ukraine were to lose, the US and its allies would face a Russia more easily able to invade NATO if it chose to do so.

Letting targets go

Poquette said that his unit has had to get more and more selective with its targets, even holding fire with what were once game-changing weapons.

The Ukrainians, he said, aren't firing their US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) like they used to. He said the unit had to stop hitting targets that they would have hit earlier in the war because of a shortage of rockets.

He also said that his unit has had to send infantry out to fight small groups of advancing Russian soldiers rather than use indirect fire to take them out, putting Ukraine's soldiers at greater risk.

Europe has been trying to increase Ukraine's ammunition supply, but many of its international partners say that there is not enough to spare on the continent and that not enough new ammo is being produced.

A Czech Republic-led initiative has been attempting to source ammunition from outside the EU. The country's president said this week that the first 180,000 rounds have been contracted and will be delivered to Ukraine's front lines "in the coming months."

Poquette said that Ukraine desperately needs artillery and ammunition more than it needs more advanced equipment like tanks from its partners. He said that what matters most right now is "ammunition, grenades, claymores, or other types of mines, rockets, various different rocket systems."

"What can one tank do?" he asked, rhetorically. "Not as much as 50,000 artillery shells, 5,000 mortar shells."


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