Arms Trafficking Stemming from Ukraine Conflict is an Increasing Concern for Western Governments

Last Updated on July 13, 2022

Russia has claimed that arms shipments meant for the Ukrainian Armed Forces are ending up on the black market in Europe and the Middle East. Speaking in televised remarks, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Ukraine had received more than 28,000 tons of military cargo so far, and some of the Western weapons were appearing in the Middle East. Shoigu did not offer any evidence to back up his claims, though the U.S. and its European allies have expressed concern over their ability to track the weapons.

“In the hope of prolonging the conflict in Ukraine, the collective West is continuing large-scale arms supplies to the Kyiv regime,” Shoigu said. “According to information at our disposal, some of the foreign weapons supplied by the West to Ukraine are spreading across the Middle Eastern region and are also ending up on the black market.”

Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine, western states have pledged more than $10 billion in military support for the beleaguered nation. NATO states have provided ammunition, armored personnel carriers and a small number of MLRS missile systems.

While Russia has not provided specifics on the supposed black-market pipeline, Western nations have been in communication with the Ukrainian government on developing a tracking system for weapons shipments. Ukraine’s government is currently setting up a more extensive weapons monitoring and tracing system with the help of western countries, according to a report from The Financial Times.

“All these weapons land in southern Poland, get shipped to the border and then are just divided up into vehicles to cross: trucks, vans, sometimes private cars,” an unnamed Western government source told the outlet. “And from that moment we go blank on their location and we have no idea where they go, where they are used or even if they stay in the country.”

The potential for US weapons sent to Ukraine to fall into the wrong hands is “among a host of considerations” given the “challenging situation” as the war continues, said Bonnie Denise Jenkins, who serves as the U.S. undersecretary for arms control and international security.

“The US very seriously takes our responsibility to protect American origin defense technologies and prevent their diversion or illicit proliferation,” Jenkins told reporters in Brussels, adding that the US was in “continued contact” with the Ukrainian government on the issue. “We are confident in the Ukrainian government’s commitment to appropriately safeguard and account for US [weapons],” Jenkins added.

Yuriy Sak, who serves as an advisor in Ukraine’s defense department, said that weapons entering the country are carefully monitored. “Any movement of weaponry either into Ukraine or out of Ukraine — when such movement is required for repairs when necessary — is very closely monitored and supervised both by Ukraine and our international partners,” Sak said.

EU interior ministers discussed the issue of Ukrainian weapons ending up on the black-market during a meeting earlier this week. In addition, the European Union commission launched an “EU support hub” in neighboring Moldova to increase coordination and monitor potential arms trafficking.

“It’s hard to avoid trafficking or smuggling — we didn’t achieve it in former Yugoslavia and probably won’t avoid it in Ukraine,” said Jana Černochová, who serves as the Czech Republic’s defense minister. Černochová went on to reiterate that Western governments are doing everything possible to prevent arms trafficking.

The U.S. and its European allies are expected to provide additional support to the Ukrainian government as the war drags on.

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