While global support in the form of military hardware pours in for Ukraine’s fight against the Russians, it is also being realized by the discerning observers that all this support may prove the adage that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. And that is because of Ukraine’s egregious record of being “one of the largest arms trafficking markets in Europe”.
Pictures or stories on social media of how Ukrainian civilians are lining up to grab automatic rifles have no doubt shown their determination and solidarity to fight for their country’s sovereignty.
But these stories overlook the danger or risk of illegal diversion that comes with issuing weapons with little to no oversight, something that the Ukrainian government does not seem to realize, despite the fact that the diversion of military-grade weapons such as hand grenades, rockets, and landmines has been a profitable business in Ukraine in recent years, giving the country a very bad name in the process.
A Hub Of Illicit Arms
According to the Global Organized Crime Index, apart from being a source of transit and destination point for human trafficking, Ukraine is one of the largest arms trafficking markets, with a substantial stockpile of weapons, few barriers to accessing arms and millions of small arms and light weapons on the black market.
“While it has long been a key link in the global arms trade, its role has only intensified since the beginning of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Most arms are reportedly trafficked domestically, but the illicit arms trade is also linked to criminal arms markets in Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, and Turkey, as well as countries in the EU and the former Yugoslavia,” the index points out.
“Within Ukraine, the cities of Odesa, Dnipro, Kharkiv, and Kyiv are significant logistical centers for criminal networks. The increasing number of arms combined with relatively limited controls and conflict in parts of eastern Ukraine has resulted in a sharp increase in the size of the criminal market for small arms and light weapons, particularly Makarov and Tokarev pistols, AK-pattern assault rifles, and Dragunov sniper rifles.
“Additionally, there is a smaller market for light machine guns. Firearm seizures have been the largest in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where fighting has been the most intense. Conflict-affected areas constitute the major sources of illicit flows for the rest of the country.”
Similarly, a 47-page European Union (EU) document, dated November 30, 2021, and drafted by ‘Empact’, a security-driven initiative by EU member states, talks of the rising attempts to smuggle illegal firearms into Poland from the Ukraine and arms trafficking in the opposite direction.
How Ukraine Fighting This Menace
Of course, since its emergence as an independent country in 1991, Ukraine has been fighting the menace of illegal smuggling of arms, ammunition, and armament-scientists and engineers for all the troubled spots of the world, notably the Middle-East, North Korea, and China.
The Ukrainian government has conducted investigations into the theft of military property, but a diversion of small and major arms persisted. A “Small Arms Survey” briefing in 2017, for example, found that, of the more than 300,000 small arms that disappeared from Ukraine from 2013 to 2015, only about 13 percent were ever recovered.
In fact, on December 27, 2021, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) through its Global Firearms Programme (GFP) had organized a workshop with representatives from Ukrainian law enforcement, prosecutorial and security services, and criminal justice practitioners from Romania, Slovakia, Georgia, Spain, the United Kingdom and France, among others.
The overall objective of the event was to contribute to a more effective criminal justice response to illicit firearms trafficking and organized crime and facilitate the implementation of the Organized Crime Convention and its supplementary Firearms Protocol in Ukraine.
Here, the Security Service of Ukraine outlined in their presentation the investigations carried out on countering firearms trafficking. Several cases were presented, which have involved organized criminal groups engaged in imported illicit firearms and their parts into Ukraine. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine also provided an extensive analysis of the firearms cases and the indicted perpetrators by presenting the details of ten cases.
But then, that does not overlook the fact that beset by a culture of corruption and struggling to end the conflict in the east, Kyiv is ill-equipped to handle the problem, argues Mark Galeotti, a Professor of Global Affairs at New York University.
“The depressing truth is that although the Ukrainian government has begun enacting new laws to address corruption and smuggling, at present the country’s ports, airports, and borders are under-controlled,” he points out. “The country has been a smuggling hub for illicit commodities of all kinds — from drugs and guns to people and counterfeit — too long for this easily to be addressed.”
Massive Military Aid
Against this background, one may see the “support” that has been either pledged or delivered to Ukraine over the past two months. Over 20 countries have pledged or delivered billions of dollars of military hardware. The details, according to the Forum on Arms Trade are:
- Australia: missiles and weapons – 70 million Australian dollars ($50 million)
- Belgium: 200 anti-tank weapons and 5,000 automatic rifles/machine guns
- Canada: machine guns, pistols, carbines, 1.5 million rounds of ammunition, sniper rifles, and various related equipment ($7.8 million), plus an additional $20 million in military aid (25 million Canadian dollars – details undisclosed)
- Croatia: rifles and machine guns, protective equipment valued at 124 million kuna (€16.5 million)
- Czech Republic: 400 million koruna ($18.23 million) of non-light weapons and an earlier 188 million koruna ($8.6 million) worth of 4,000 mortars, 30,000 pistols, 7,000 assault rifles, 3,000 machine guns, a number of sniper rifles, and one million bullets.
- Denmark: 2,700 anti-tank weapons, 300 Stinger missiles (returned to the United States to be made operational), protective vests
- Estonia: Javelin anti-tank missiles; nine howitzers (with German permission)
- European Union: other weapons (unspecified- €500 million) [originally included fighter jets, which currently appears no longer true]
- Finland: 2,500 assault rifles and 150,000 cartridges for them, 1,500 single-shot anti-tank weapons, and combat ration packages
- France: “additional defense equipment”
- Germany: 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft defense systems, plus permission for select other countries to send weapons controlled by Germany
- Greece: defense and medical equipment
- Italy: Cabinet approved the transfer of military equipment, pending Parliamentary approval.- reported to include Stinger missiles and machine guns
- Lithuania: Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems and ammunition
- Netherlands: 200 Stinger missiles, 3000 combat helmets, and 2000 fragmentation vests with accompanying armor plates, one hundred sniper rifles with 30,000 pieces of ammunition, plus other equipment; 400 rocket-propelled grenade launchers (with German permission)
- Norway: 2000 anti-tank weapons, helmets, bulletproof vests, other protection equipment
- Portugal: grenades and ammunition, G3 automatic rifles, and other non-lethal equipment
- Romania: €3 million of fuel, bulletproof vests, helmets, ammunition, military equipment, and medical treatment.
- Spain: 20 tons of medical supplies, defensive, and personal protective equipment composing of helmets, flak jackets, and NBC (nuclear-biological-chemical) protection waistcoats
- Sweden: 5,000 anti-tank weapons, helmets, and body shields
- Turkey: co-production of drones
- United Kingdom: 2,000 short-range and anti-tank missiles, Saxon armored vehicles
- United States: Stinger missiles, anti-armor, small arms and various munitions, body armor, plus ($1 billion over the past year), prior key deliveries include Javelin missiles.
Importantly, this list is primarily meant to indicate lethal weapons but does include some non-lethal weapons as well.
It may be highlighted here that prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration — in an action designed to show support without overly committing the US — sent $200 million in weapons to Kyiv. This is in addition to the authorized $412 million in the financing, arming, and training in 2020. The US has also committed an additional $350 million for weapons after the first three days of fighting.
All this, however, does not hide the unpalatable truth that the Ukrainian system, overwhelmed with donations and under massive pressure to deploy them as quickly as possible against the invading Russian army, does not have the wherewithal to keep weapons from diverting into the existing illicit arms trade.
- Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of Editorial Board – EurAsian Times and has been commenting on politics, foreign policy on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. CONTACT: [email protected]
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