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Ukrainian arms sales to terrorists

Steven Sahiounie, journalist and political commentator

Jurgen Stock, Secretary General of the international policing organization INTERPOL, has warned of the eventual danger of the western weapons donated to Ukraine flooding the international arms market.  Conflict zones, criminal gangs, and terrorists may be the buyers of the donated sophisticated western made weapons of war.

“Once the guns fall silent [in Ukraine], the illegal weapons will come. We know this from many other theatres of conflict. The criminals are even now, as we speak, focusing on them,” Stock said.

“Criminal groups try to exploit these chaotic situations and the availability of weapons, even those used by the military and including heavy weapons. These will be available on the criminal market and will create a challenge. No country or region can deal with it in isolation because these groups operate at a global level.”

He added: “We can expect an influx of weapons in Europe and beyond. We should be alarmed and we have to expect these weapons to be trafficked not only to neighboring countries but to other continents.”

Stock urged members to “track and trace” the weapons. 

Ukraine’s western allies have sent shipments of high-end military weapons to Ukraine since the Russian conflict more than four months ago. After the US pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, following 20 years of war, huge amounts of sophisticated military equipment were left behind and fell into the hands of the Taliban.

Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol, told German media, Die Welt am Sonntag, that they were very concerned that the military equipment the West is sending to Ukraine will end up on the black market and in the hands of terrorists and criminals, which would imperil the internal security landscape of the EU.  She added an ominous assessment that, “people who are going to fight in Ukraine do not represent a homogeneous group but rather adhere to different ideologies.”

US President Joe Biden, on May 21 in South Korea, formally signed the $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, which in turn caused Interpol and Europol to worry. France, Germany and others in the EU have sent arms as well.

Ukrainian fighters are making “tangible strikes” on Russian logistical targets thanks to Western weapons, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

“At last, Western artillery has started to work powerfully, the weapons we are getting from our partners. And their accuracy is exactly what is needed,” he said. Kyiv has repeatedly pleaded with the West to send more weapons to repel the Russian invasion.

The dark net weapons sales

500,000 weapons have entered Ukraine’s black market since 2014, including assault rifles, machine guns and pistols.  Currently, the black market is flooded with weapons while Azov Battalion members are advertising sophisticated military hardware, including drones and rockets to prospective customers on the dark net.

On June 2, ASB Military News reported that some of the arms the US and NATO donated are being sold to buyers in the Middle East and North Africa. According to the Pentagon’s 2021 budget, each Javelin missile costs $178,000. However, these missiles are now listed for sale on the dark net for just $30,000, ASB Military News revealed.

John Mark Dougan, a former US Marine who traveled to Ukraine to report on the conflict said, “Many people are taking these weapons and selling them to terrorist organizations on the black market. As a result, these weapons will be used in the future to kill people in Europe and other places.” 

Azov Battalion members, other neo-Nazi groups, and some members of the Ukrainian Army have been making a 500 percent profit from selling donated weapons on the black market where the current price for an assault rifle ranges between $350-600, while the same weapon can be resold to weapon trafficking rackets for up to $ 2,000.

Ukrainian streets and alleys are littered with weapons and ammunition that scavengers collect for sale, and Ukraine is poised to become a huge threat to regional and global security.

Who are the Nazis in Ukraine?

The Special Operations Detachment Azov” is a unit of the National Guard of Ukraine, formerly based in Mariupol, and incorporated into the National Guard on November 11, 2014.

It has come under international criticism for its use of Nazi symbols, and allegations that members of the group have participated in torture and war crimes.

The Azov Movement is a large political umbrella group comprised of veterans and organizations with a far-right political ideology.  Russian President Vladimir Putin said one reason for his special military operations in Ukraine was ‘denazification’, while western media backing Ukraine pointed out that the Ukrainian President was Jewish.

The Nazis in Ukraine are not targeting Jews, as was the case during the German Nazi party in the Hitler era.  Zelenskyy may not share the Nazi ideology of Azov, but he values them as a fierce fighting force against the Russians.

Ukraine’s past history of weapons sales to conflict zones

Viktor Bout is said by some to be Ukrainian, and others claim he is Russian. Certainly he was an international arms dealer who sold to conflict zones, the Taliban, and to the US government. 

In 2011, Bout was convicted by a jury in the US, and was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. The 2005 film Lord of War is purportedly based on allegations about Bout’s personal history and black-market activities.  As a young man, he took advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union and bought up Ukrainian stockpiles and aircraft which he re-sold to conflicts from Liberia to Afghanistan.  After 2001, he worked for the US government and its civilian suppliers, shipping goods into Iraq on their behalf. He was arrested in 2008.

Ukraine’s long history as the center of the black market arms trade is worrying. After the Cold War, criminal entrepreneurs capitalized on massive Soviet-era stockpiles left behind in Ukraine and, by some estimates, made away with $32 billion in military equipment between 1992 and 1998.

Steve Zissou, the US attorney who represents Bout, says Moscow may trade Brittany Griner, the American basketball player held in Russia on drug charges, for Bout.

War profiteers

The US military-industrial complex is the biggest winner, where their weapons are sold globally, and are not banned for sale in the US.  For arms manufacturers, the Ukrainian conflict is a cash cow.

Experts have warned that it can backfire, like what happened after the US funded and supported Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, only to have the group turn on them and attack the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Another concern comes after US armed forces exited Afghanistan in 2021 following two decades of war and left huge amounts of military equipment which eventually fell into the hands of the Taliban.

Western countries have now handed over billions in aid and weapons to Ukraine, but there is no method to track and monitor their movement and final destination.

Where might these weapons go in the future?

Akila al-Taya, an Iraqi security expert, recently warned that US weapons currently supplied to Ukraine are likely to be smuggled to extremists inside or outside Ukraine, as well as to terrorist groups, including the ISIS.

US funded terrorists in Syria until Trump cut the CIA program

The Obama administration funded the Free Syrian Army(FSA) in their project for regime change.  The FSA failed on the battlefield, but their brothers-in-arms Jibhat al-Nusra, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, was the fiercest terrorist group in 2013, and by 2015 were in control of much of Syria.  In order for the US to continue to fund and supply Jibhat al-Nusra, they changed their name to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and they continue to occupy Idlib, which is the last terrorist controlled territory today in Syria. 

In 2017, Trump cut the funding of the CIA program which supported the terrorist groups in Syria, but, the US continues to partner with Turkey to prevent the terrorists from being attacked in Idlib, while they hold about three million civilians’ hostage. 

After 11 years of war in Syria, and US-NATO weapons flooding the battlefields, the war is over but where did all the weapons go?

Steven Sahiounie is a two-time award-winning journalist