“It’s Impossible to Stop”: Why the Illegal Sale of Weapons and Military Equipment Is Growing in Ukraine

Translated by Ollie Richardson



In the warehouses of the Zhytomyr region about 200 units of military equipment — BTR, BMP, ZIL, “Ural”, GAZ, and spare parts for them – were discovered and confiscated. According to the National Police, the whole batch was being prepared for illegal sale. According to experts, Ukraine during its years of independence has become one of the largest illegal suppliers of arms in Europe. The main stream comes from units and warehouses of the UAF, and also from the zone of the so-called ATO (anti-terrorist operation). As a source in the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine reported to RT, “stopping this process is impossible”. The material of RT illuminates the scale of weapon “sales”…

Random find

Ukrainian police found a large batch of military equipment that was going to be sold illegally. According to the press service of the department, it was stored in the warehouses of the Novograd-Volynsky district of the Zhytomyr region and discovered incidentally – during an investigation into the circumstances of the main oil pipeline receiving damage.

“During two weeks a number of searches were carried out in the Novograd-Volynsky district, and nearly 200 objects prepared for sale were confiscated. Among the found equipment — BTR, BMP, ZIL, ‘Ural’, GAZ, KUNG, trailers, tankers, autotowers, tractors with winches, and other equipment, including for the transportation of people by land and water. A significant amount of spare parts for them, batteries, tires, and other things were also confiscated,” it is said in the message of the National Police.

Law enforcement bodies are trying to establish what units the equipment came from and whether it was used for military operations in the East of Ukraine. According to the statement of the military prosecutor of the central region of Ukraine Grigory Ryabenko, the discovered equipment isn’t military and, most likely, was sold legally in 2013-2016.

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However, the source of RT in the National Police said that investigators have doubts concerning the legality of the transaction.

“It is military and was superfluously sold during military operations. But how can this happen, taking into account the military operation in the East of the country? We are now checking whether the equipment was indeed sold and whether the transaction was lawful,” stated the interlocutor of RT.

Can’t be calculated

Ukraine carries out the illegal delivery of arms, which were mainly produced at the time of the USSR, to all possible countries, said the head of the political science and sociology department of the Plekhanov University of Economics and academician of the Academy of Military Science of the Russian Federation Andrey Koshkin in a conversation with RT.

“Deliveries go to the countries of Eastern Europe, Africa, and to the Middle East. The business of selling weapons makes fabulous profits for Ukrainian businessmen,” noted the expert.

According to the source of RT in the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, illegal deliveries of equipment abroad are indeed carried out.

“We regularly record a shortage of equipment in warehouses, but in the ATO zone it is more difficult to check its availability. We aren’t able to regain control over the situation,” said the interlocutor of RT.

According to the source of RT, after the beginning of the so-called ATO Ukraine turned into one of the largest markets for the sale of illegal arms in Europe.

In the hands of the population, according to the estimates of the National Police, there are about 5 million weapons alone. According to experts, it is now impossible to define how much military equipment was stolen in Ukraine.

“There is an illegal war in the country – even under Ukrainian laws, the withering away of the government is observed, law enforcement bodies aren’t capable of regaining the monopoly on violence, and the crime rate is growing at a rapid speed – the level exceeds the 90’s. Chaotic military operations create good conditions for the distribution of weapons in illegal ways,” noted the senior research associate of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies Oleg Nemensky in a conversation with RT.

According to the expert, major fires in arms warehouses happen in Ukraine regularly, and they do not happen incidentally.

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During the years of [Ukraine’s – ed] independence, six large-scale fires in warehouses were recorded in the country, and most of them happened after 2014. For example, at the end of October, 2015, weapons burned in the warehouses of Svatovo in the Lugansk region, where about 3,500 tons of ammunition were stored.

In the middle of March, 2017, there was a fire in the biggest army warehouse of arms and ammunition — 30 km from the city of Balakleya in the Kharkov region. It was extinguished in two days, and the losses were about 1 billion hryvnia ($114 million). In September of last year the same situation was observed in a weapon warehouse in Kalinovka, which is located 20 km from Vinnytsia. At the same time, a fire happened in a warehouse near the village of Maloyanisol in the Donetsk region.

Western vector

Ukrainian military equipment illegally finds itself in many hot spots and various countries, in circumvention of international sanctions. Big resonance was caused by the emergence on the black market of rocket engines from the Ukrainian “Yuzhmash” plant, which were probably obtained by North Korea.

Last summer journalists assumed that rockets were being sold due to a lack of orders, most of which came from Russia in the past, and also because of the financial crisis in the country. Then the management of “Yuzhmash” and the National Security and Defense Council refuted the information, but new details of this case are now emerging.

In 2017 the international human rights organisation Amnesty International reported about deliveries of Ukrainian weapons – machine guns, mortars, RPG – to South Sudan. Representatives of the state enterprise “Ukrinmash”, which is accused of making these deliveries, stated that they have nothing to do with them.

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Ukrainian FN6 surface-to-air missile systems were used by ISIS militants, reported the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA in November, 2015. According to journalists, the weapons were bought on the territory of Ukraine, and then arrived on the territory of Syria through Turkey.

“Ukraine controls the arms market badly, but it is unbeneficial for western countries to make this public. They support the country, therefore so far Ukraine escapes punishment for all of this,” stressed Nemensky.

Koshkin considers that the US, which actually controls Ukraine, closes its eyes to the illegal arms and equipment trade.

“But the current situation negatively affects the neighbours of Ukraine and other countries of the world where Ukrainian weapons are delivered,” considers Nemensky.

The source of RT in the Ministry of Defence said that the illegal sale of weapons will continue further.

“They sell everything that they can. It’s reached such a scale that it’s impossible to stop this process. The only hope is that foreign partners will introduce stricter control over weapons trafficking,” said the interlocutor of RT.

However, experts note that the western partners of Ukraine – the EU and the US – still only control the weapons that they themselves send to Ukraine. According to RT’s source in the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, in February, 2018, the head of department Stepan Poltorak at a meeting with his American colleague James Mattis in Washington gave guarantees that the Javelin anti-tank systems “will not go missing or burn”.

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