War turns Ukraine into ‘supermarket’ for illegal weapons

August 6, 2016 | By | Reply More

Aug  06, –  The war in eastern Ukraine against Russia-backed separatists has led to the uncontrolled spread of firearms throughout the country, with experts describing Ukraine as a “supermarket” where millions of illegal weapons are for sale.

weaponsA former Ukrainian soldier-turned-arms dealer agrees to meet in Kiev, where he offers to sell a Makarov semi-automatic pistol for about $160. Amid haggling, he drops the price to $120. He says he also has Kalashnikov automatic rifles for less than $400 and can get heavier weapons such as rocket launchers if given a little more time.

Since the armed conflict broke out in 2014, the number of crimes involving firearms has more than doubled in Ukraine, a country where gun ownership was previously very rare. Some of the weapons are also being smuggled out of the country, destined for conflict zones in the Middle East or for Europe, adding to fears of more attacks.

Andriy, the arms dealer, fought with the nationalist Right Sector volunteer battalion for more than a year against the separatists. He agreed to discuss the illegal weapons trade on the condition he be identified only by his first name for fear of being arrested. If convicted of illegal weapons sales, he could be sent to prison for five years.

With the worst of the fighting in eastern Ukraine now over, Andriy said a used handgun can be purchased there for as little as $20. “But from the east, the road is long and dangerous,” he said, explaining the significant markup he gets in the capital, Kiev.

The scale of the smuggling is difficult to judge because Ukraine has made all data about the illegal arms trade classified. Ukrainian border guards, however, regularly report thwarting attempts to transport weapons out of the country illegally. In one of the more high-profile cases, a Frenchman was arrested in May after trying to cross into Poland with an entire arsenal. The Ukrainian Security Service said he was planning a series of terror attacks in France.

Each week, the security services and police uncover illegal arms caches with Kalashnikovs, explosives and even rocket launchers brought from the combat zone in eastern Ukraine. Transport police almost daily remove passengers from trains for transporting weapons in their baggage. Most are military personnel or members of volunteer battalions that have been fighting on the government side.

Heorhiy Uchaikin, who heads the Ukrainian association of gun owners, estimated that Ukrainians now illegally possess as many as 5 million firearms.

“Ukraine has turned into a supermarket for illegal weapons,” he said. “In Ukraine, a gun is like shoe polish in a shoe polish factory.”

The only legal market for firearms in Ukraine is for hunting rifles, the sales of which are tightly regulated. Security companies can obtain licenses for guards to carry small arms. Uchaikin is advocating changing the laws to make ownership of handguns and Kalashnikovs legal as a way to regulate the market and address gun crime.

Some of the weapons sold illegally were seized from separatist fighters and are believed to have been supplied by Russia. In June, Ukraine’s security services seized more than 200 rocket launchers, 3,000 grenades and two Shmel flamethrowers that are not part of the Ukrainian arsenal.

But most of the weapons on the black market come from the Ukrainian military and the around 40 volunteer battalions, which for most of the fighting remains outside the military chain of command.

Press journalist for HRO media – Ignacio Damigo reports.

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Category: European Crises

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