17 Apr 2023

Inside the world of Ukraine’s private arms dealers

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

The number of military vehicles sold by private dealers in the UK to Ukraine have soared since Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion last year.

As Ukraine’s forces have scrambled to arm themselves in the face of Russia’s onslaught started by the full-scale invasion in February 2022, with towns like Bakhmut and Avdiivka now under daily attack in the war, the demand for weapons has never been higher.

British businessman Nick Mead spent decades buying military vehicles from the UK Ministry of Defence for his entertainment company Tanks A Lot, but since February 2022, Ukrainians desperate for armour have been buying them off him.

We followed 25 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) from Nick’s farm in Northamptonshire to the front lines in Ukraine.

But Nick’s vehicles are not the only ones on the road.

More than £30 million worth of military vehicles were shipped to Ukraine from the UK between April and September 2022 alone, according to government data, while in the whole of 2021 only £37,000 worth of vehicles were sold, in 2020 it was £550,000 and in 2019 nothing was sold.

But, the soaring demand for British armoured vehicles has driven prices up, leading some to accuse sellers of profiteering.

Nick says: “There’d be some people who’d think we’re profiteering out of war, and I guess we are and that hurts. What I’m trying to do is help Ukraine, and I wish a lot more people would help Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian buyers we spoke to said they trusted Nick as a seller who provides the best prices he can afford.

However, Nick says he won’t be able to supply Ukraine’s forces for much longer as the bank account he’s had for decades with Barclays has now been closed because his business has been deemed too high risk.

A Barclay’s spokesperson said: “Decisions to close customer accounts are only made after very careful consideration and based on all the facts available to us at the time.

“We apply higher levels of due diligence in order to manage and mitigate risk, especially where third parties are involved.”