While the US and other western nations continue to arm Ukraine, it is also being realized that all this military 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 Ukraine and arms trafficking in the opposite direction.
How Is Ukraine Fighting The 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), 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 importing 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
The US will provide another $275 million military aid package for Ukraine, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby confirmed.
The $275 million authorization of Presidential Drawdown Assistance is the 27th such package since August 2021, the Pentagon said in a statement. The package includes ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and 80,000 rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition, the statement said.
The package also includes counter-drone equipment, counter-air defense capabilities, and approximately 150 generators, the statement added.
The United States has committed a whopping $22 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the start of the Biden administration and will continue to meet its evolving battlefield requirements, according to the statement.
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 resources to keep weapons from diverting into the existing illicit arms trade.
- Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the 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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