Is it likely that weapons sent to the front will return to Western Europe illegally?

Is it likely that weapons sent to the front will return to Western Europe illegally?

One hundred days of fighting in Ukraine and hundreds of thousands of weapons. How long before they get into the wrong hands? “At some point the war will end”warned on 28 May Catherine de Bolle, director of Europol, the European Criminal Police Agency. “We want to avoid experiencing the same situation as 30 years ago during the Balkan War.” After the wars for independence in the former Yugoslavia, the arms trade fueled criminal networks in the West.

Europol wants to install so that history does not falter “International Task Force on Strategy Development” against potential smuggling, an official told a German newspaper The world. Interpol shares these concerns. According to its CEO Jürgen Stock, it is the European Union “A likely destination for these weapons, as black market prices are significantly higher in Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries”.

“The widespread availability of weapons during the current conflict will lead to the proliferation of illegal weapons in the post-conflict phase. Criminals are already focusing on that.”

Jürgen Stock, CEO of Interpol

in Lyon, June 1

This issue is all the more sensitive as Western arms supplies increase to help Ukraine against Vladimir Putin’s troops. Sweden provided AT4 anti-tank rocket launchers several times, Belgium supplied 5,000 FNC rifles and Portugal supplied G3 automatic rifles. In mid-May, the United States also launched 5,500 anti-tank missiles, 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems and 7,000 small arms.

However, it is not possible to assess all the volumes involved, as some countries conceal supply details. “The French parliament should have information on the amount of material, the timing of deliveries. But it is completely evacuated.”Deplores Mr Sébastien Nadot (ex-LREM), whose written question addressed in April to the armies remained a dead letter.

“This lack of transparency makes us a prisoner of future misuse of these weapons.”

Sébastien Nadot, Deputy (ex-LREM)

on franceinfo

However, EU countries are signatories to and UN Arms Trade Treaty and accepted a common position establish control and traceability criteria. “Germany has been adding a clause to export licenses for several years, for example in order to carry out on-the-spot checks on stocks at the consignee’s”, explains Maria Camello, researcher at the Research and Peace and Security Information Group (Grip). But “it is not certain that this clause exists in the case of Ukraine”, she says. Plus it is “too soon” carry out inspections.

Theoretically, there is also technical tracing. “Laser photo engraving, deep pressing, which changes the crystalline structure of the metal … In recent years, technical efforts have been made to improve the marking of weapons”, explains Stéphane Audrand, a consultant specializing in the arms trade. In the Ukrainian context, it still causes some hiccups, including an incomplete Swedish AT4 transfer certificate. The document did not include “All serial numbers. These touches were later fixed quickly.”

Sufficient measures? “Monitoring is important to try to limit the circulation of weapons, but it works especially when you are not in a conflict situation.”, nuance Nils Duquet, director of the Flemish Peace Institute. during the war, “weapons are transferred here or there, others are lost on the battlefield.”

At present, there are few traces of embezzlement in Ukraine. In mid-May, testimonials mentioned the explosion of a civilian car (in Russia) in the suburbs of Moscow with two Swedish anti-tank missiles on board. The owner of the vehicle was taken into custody, according to the Russian agency Tass (in Russia), specifying that the 52 – year – old man was returning from a humanitarian mission in Donbas. This isolated episode already indicates irregular flows.

However Russians “be able to get Western equipment in hand”, hires Stéphane Audrand. Assumes: “It will turn against its opponents and it will sporadically feed Russian criminal networks.” The expert is also considering the possibility of finding some of these weapons confiscated by the Russians “In terrorist and jihadist networks, then to accuse the people of the West of feeding criminal networks.”

According to him, the supplier countries asked Ukraine to estimate stocks and material losses in the fight. A delicate task in a high-intensity conflict. Neither the customs administration nor the French Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Armed Forces specified the possible traceability guarantees required by Paris. The US administration would organize meetings with independent experts, he writes and Washington Post (in English)in order to provide these guarantees without disclosure of further details.

Even after the war, which complicates the census, concerns stem from the historical context of Ukraine. With the fall of the USSR, the country inherited 30% of the Soviet military-industrial complex. “Then he had large supplies and was at the crossroads of the post-Soviet world, towards the Black Sea and the Caucasus.”until and “arms trade center”, explains Stéphane Audrand,

Between 1992 and 1996, $ 32 billion worth of weapons disappeared from military supplies, presents a study by the Institute for Strategic Research of the Military School (Irsem). In 2010, the country still had 6.2 million small arms and light weapons (SALW), most of which were held illegally. Or the third largest stock in the world, after China and Russia.

Employees investigate the Kalashnikovs before destroying them on January 16, 2007 at Kamyanets-Podilsky (Ukraine).  (SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP)

“As the Ukrainian governments approached the countries of the West, they nevertheless tried to control this operation.”, continues Stéphane Audrand. This dynamic “laborious due to corruption”, was stopped by the Donbas crisis in 2014, which caused “Confusion between soldiers and civilians and rearmament of civilians in the conflict zone”. Weapons supplies are looting in eastern Ukraine. From 2013 to 2015, the authorities recorded the disappearance of 300,000 small arms and light weapons. “The areas controlled by the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk (…) concentrate most of the traffic”, writes Irsem.

The Tokarev pistol, AK-47 and Dragounov rifles are important. Matt Schroeder, a researcher at the Small Arms Survey, assures on Twitter (in English) that “Ukrainian government intervened against these diversions and invested in finding and destroying smuggled weapons”. In four years, 1,600 small arms, 1.5 million rounds and 900 rocket launchers were seized.

And tomorrow, again ? “At this stage, the front line is vacuuming all ammunition and weapons.”, thinks Stéphane Audrand. In the absence of accurate data, it still applies “too difficult to comment on the future of weapons in circulation in the region”adds to franceinfo Edouard Jolly, researcher in the field of armed conflict theory in Irsem. “We know from the former Yugoslavia that when the armed conflict is over, the risk of diversion of arms supplies is very high.”

“For the first years after the war, most people don’t sell these weaponsagrees Nils Duquet. We expect to see the same in Ukraine. At first, the population will fear the return of the Russians, so they will not sell their weapons. If human trafficking is to take place, it will initially be more within the country. ” After a few years, these weapons could land in Western Europe.

“Five years ago, we wrote that a huge problem was coming. Today, there are even more weapons and even less control. And therefore, more opportunities for criminal networks.”

Nils Duquet, director of the Flemish Peace Institute

on franceinfo

The end of hostilities will then require increased surveillance, p “All existing control instruments, legal and political”, Edouard Jolly explains. Delicate task, because many Ukrainian civilians are now armed – President Volodymyr Zelensky, in addition, signed several decrees authorizing the purchase and sale of individuals. In a context of high uncertainty, the conflict has strengthened the will of part of the population to own weapons, as several consultations have shown.

On February 20, 2022, civilians took part in basic weapons training in Kiev, Ukraine.  (GENYA SAVILOV / AFP)

Nils Duquet does not believe in any weapons restitution programs in the coming years. At a minimum, it is better to organize registration campaigns with a fixed legal framework. “The main goal in Ukraine is to gain better control of weapons, even if it means legalizing their possession for self-defense purposes.”

Although most of the equipment used in Ukraine dates back to the post-USSR era, Nils Duquet does not rule out that Western weapons delivered recently have fallen back into the wrong hands. Even before the start of the war, Europol’s “Weapons and Explosives” unit established contacts with the Kiev security forces. But the service should “Strengthen this cooperation urgently, because the problem of Ukraine’s weapons will be at least as important as in the former Yugoslavia.”


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