Russian Riot Control Agent Grenades in Ukraine

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By Shai Arbel

Throughout 2022, 2023, and into 2024, Russia has been frequently accused of using riot control agents (RCAs) against Ukrainian forces during its ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The use of such agents is banned under Article 1 of the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which Russia is a State Party. 

In a report published by Reuters in April 2024, Col. Serhii Pakhomov, the acting head of Ukraine’s atomic, biological, and chemical defense forces, said they had recorded as many as 1,400 uses of RCAs since February 2022, 900 of which had been recorded in the past six months.

Furthermore, in May 2024, the U.S. State Department accused Russia of using the choking agent chloropicrin to win “battlefield gains” over Ukraine. It was widely used in WWI and can cause irritation of the lungs, eyes, and skin, and can lead to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

Returning to RCAs, while CN and CS gas grenades are commonly used for riot control by many countries, CS gas dispersal devices being dropped on Ukrainian military positions by Russian UAVs has been previously documented. The evidence presented in this article on the Russian use of RCA grenades in Ukraine suggests a diversification in the use of gas grenade dispersal devices, including the introduction of previously unseen grenades.

RG-Vo 862-3-23

On December 14, 2023, a new type of gas grenade was used in an attack by a small armed Russian UAV in Ukraine. The grenade contained an unknown chemical substance that was subsequently analyzed, revealing traces of a chloroacetophenone riot control agent inside the grenade.

The grenade casing was found after it was reportedly released from the UAV targeting a Ukrainian position. The metal casing of the grenade bore the Russian-language markings “RG-Vo 862-3-23”.

On January 26, 2024, the Kyiv Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expertise conducted an examination of the grenades used in the attack, finding within them traces of chloroacetophenone, commonly known as CN riot control gas. Its chemical formula is C8H7OCl.

Like CS gas, this compound irritates the mucous membranes, namely oral, nasal, conjunctival and tracheobronchial. At times, exposure to chloroacetophenone may lead to more generalized reactions, such as syncope, and temporary loss of balance and orientation. More rarely, cutaneous irritating outbreaks have been observed as well as permanent allergic contact dermatitis. At high concentrations, CN may cause corneal epithelial damage and chemosis. 

The Ukrainian investigation concluded that the grenade was manufactured using an industrial method. The marking “RG-Vo” would suggest that the grenade’s name is the Russian acronym that stands for “hand grenade with poisonous substance” (Ручная Граната – Вещество Ортавляющее). The marking “862” may suggest that this grenade was manufactured by the Research Institute of Applied Chemistry Special Plant No. 862 in Sergiyev Posad, Moscow Oblast, Russia. The number 23 indicates the year the grenade was manufactured – 2023.

 The RG-Vo gas grenade.
Residue of the explosive substance from the grenade casing (left); microscopic examination of the substance (right).

On December 9, 2023, several days before the RG-Vo grenades were used to target the Ukrainian positions, the grenades were presented by a Russian Telegram channel administrator who is actively fighting in the war. He wrote on that date: “Good morning! Meet the RG-Vo. A very effective gas grenade. By dropping it from a quadcopter it can quickly smoke the enemy out of cover.”

In addition to the grenades now identified as RG-Vo, Russian forces have employed other grenades filled with CS gas, such as DROFA-PM, RGR, and K-51.

The K-51 grenades are employed as a tactic to compel enemy combatants out of their trenches and defensive positions, directing them towards areas where they become more vulnerable targets for armed UAVs and other weapons.

RG-Vo grenades documented on a Russian Telegram channel, December 9, 2023.

DROFA-PM Grenades

The DROFA-PM is a combined stun and irritant gas grenade characterized by its metal casing. It features four blocks of flashbang charge along with three pyrotechnic blocks containing irritant gas. Initiation of the grenade is achieved through a grenade fuse-based mechanism that includes a safety pin.

The DROFA-PM grenades have a diameter of no less than 64mm, a length of no less than 214mm (with the fuse), and weigh no less than 450g. They have a dispersal cloud volume of no less than 300m3, with a gas dispersal time of no less than 20 seconds. Its fuse time delay is between 3-5 seconds, it has a maximum luminous intensity (cd) of no less than 8 x 106, and its acoustic intensity at five meters measures no less than 110dB. It can be used in temperatures ranging from -40 to +40°C.

DROFA-PM grenade: specifications (left); a grenade used against Ukrainian positions (right).

RGR Grenade

The RGR (standing for “irritant hand grenade” in Russian) is authorized for export by JSC Rosoboronexport, the exclusive state intermediary agency for Russia’s exports and imports of defense-related and dual-use products, technologies, and services. According to their information, the RGR is a gas-type grenade designed to diminish the psycho-volitional stability of targets during special operations and mass riot suppression. The design of the grenade facilitates its rotation during the formation of a CS substance cloud, thereby reducing the likelihood of it being thrown back.

The RGR weighs 200g, has a diameter of 58mm, and a length of 175mm. Its time of gas dispersal is no less than 14 seconds, and it has a fuse time delay of 3-5 seconds.

RGR grenade: export specifications for RGR grenades (left); a grenade used against Ukrainian positions, bearing the marking number 862 (right).

CS is ten times more potent as a lacrimator than CN, but it is less systemically toxic. Both CN and CS cause nearly immediate pain in the eyes, excessive tearing, eyelid closure, and incapacitation of exposed individuals.

While such agents rarely result in fatalities, the Ukrainian arena consistently presents evidence of the proliferation and diversification of gas grenade dispersal devices, including their deployment from armed UAVs.

The continued use of gas grenades and their deployment from armed UAVs is a concerning tactic. Given the circumstances of attritional trench warfare, there is a risk of escalation to the use or development of more lethal toxins in the future.

Shai Arbel is the CEO of Terrogence Global, a leading private intelligence company. Until 2021, Terrogence was part of the Verint Systems group, a global leader for Actionable Intelligence Technologies, in which Mr. Arbel served as Vice President for Threat Intelligence. Mr. Arbel is a leading expert in WEBINT, OSINT and Threat Intelligence, with over 20 years’ experience in the field of intelligence and counterterrorism. In his previous roles, Mr. Arbel was CEO and a member of the Board of Directors of Terrogence Ltd. And CEO and a co-founder of SenseCy Cyber Intelligence Ltd. Before joining Terrogence, Mr. Arbel was a team leader in the IDF Intelligence Corps (Unit 8200) and also worked for the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). Mr. Arbel holds a B.Sc. Degree in Economics and Management for executives (Cum Laude), from the Ruppin Academic Center.

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