Europe Braces for Flood of Weapons from Ukraine War

Frontex, in a very recent report, notes that "if a conflict takes place on Poland's eastern border, Ukraine is not yet the main source of illegal weapons entering the EU" and warns the fact that this “situation could change when the hostilities end in Ukraine and if the weapons distributed to Ukrainian citizens at the start of the conflict and those during the hostilities are resold on the black market. All this remains - for now - a forecast and an analysis of the threats that the EU could face.

Doubt arises about Ukraine's ability to stop such a development. Continental Observer had already – last summer – reported that the United States was not able to control the weapons sent to the field.

“Due to the war in Ukraine, large quantities of weapons, particularly of military quality, remain uncontrolled there,” warns Frontex, which affirms that “with the intensification of the proliferation of firearms, explosives and ammunition, more and more unregistered firearms and military equipment will likely enter the illegal [black market].” Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which supports EU Member States and Schengen associated countries in the management of the EU's external borders and in the fight against cross-border crime analyzes the threats that the EU may face in the years to come. The document also cites examples from other post-conflict zones and how they influenced the flow of illegal weapons into Europe after the end of hostilities. Also, the scenario that occurred in other war zones may also occur after the cessation of military operations on Ukrainian territory.   According to Frontex, “criminal groups in the region will not only arm themselves, but smugglers will also most likely take advantage of the opportunity. The extent to which these weapons are smuggled across borders depends on the duration of the conflict and the general security situation in Ukraine, local demand for such equipment, as well as border control measures. .

InfoSecurity24 states that the services of the various Member States, including of course Poland, are preparing for such a development. The Polish media specifies that the Central Police Bureau of Investigation has “included” such a scenario on the list of priorities in matters of criminal crime. “Weapons saturation – which will become useless – in Ukraine will be high and could spread to the whole of Europe. We want to prevent what happened after the war in the Balkans when weapons reached many European countries,” said Paweł Półtorzycki, commander of the Central Police Investigation Bureau (CBŚP). However, he stressed that since May this year no situation of this type has been observed. So for the moment these are analyzes and forecasts. This is also the result of data provided by Frontex. Arms and ammunition smuggling in 2022 at the EU's external border with Ukraine has been rated as 'low'. Most cases detected involved isolated weapons parts, often non-lethal weapons, hidden in hand luggage and intended for personal protection.   In September, the CBŚP posted on social media - X (formerly Twitter) about the discovery of arms trafficking in Poland. Last June the CBŚP discovered “150 firearms (non-recent war weapons, but also Glock pistols), 1000 firearm components and ammunition with Austrian police and Nazi flags”.

“However, preparations to flood the EU with weapons from Ukraine, although still forecasts, are underway,” says InfoSecurity24. Border police must be trained and agents have been sent to Moldova. During this activity, they had to refresh their knowledge on how to smuggle weapons, the equipment to detect them and the procedures after they are discovered during inspections. Frontex has developed a handbook for officers to help them stay up to date on the subject. “It should, however, be noted at this stage that the Balkans remain the main transit zone for illegal weapons imported to the EU,” insists the Polish media.

The Balkan route is increasingly used for smuggling, particularly for weapons from Türkiye. Frontex reports that this country is known for transforming weapons using blank ammunition (blank guns) – which are easier to transport across the EU's external borders – into relatively inexpensive weapons with live ammunition. . InfoSecurity24 reveals that the choice of Moldova

is not due to chance because it is there that a hub in the fight against organized crime and arms smuggling from Ukraine was created. This administrative creation is to act as a 'one-stop shop', helping Europol and Frontex manage border protection and obtain information on arms smuggling and human trafficking.

The Ukrainian authorities themselves are trying to prevent the problem of illegal weapons. They estimate that there are approximately 15 million unregistered weapons of various types in the hands of the civilian population. After the conflict began in February 2022, weapons were distributed to virtually everyone who wanted to fight. Continental Observer headlined last July that “a black arms market has formed in Ukraine making Ukraine a global center for the illegal arms trade” and mentioned that “the Pentagon reported the theft in Ukraine of part weapons supplied by the West” and that “at the same time, the dealers of war weapons intended to sell them on the black market”.

“It is natural that the authorities are concerned about its illegal trade, which will become a threat to national security and interests not only of Ukraine, but also of other countries, including, of course, Poland,” concludes InfoSecurity24, inviting the Ukrainian authorities to consider controlling the arms trade as one of the priorities of the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior. These authorities decided to launch the unified national registry of weapons (which came into operation on June 23) which allows them to be registered without going to the police, by using the online service or by contacting stores selling weapons.

InfoSecurity24 recalls that Ukraine “already had a weapons smuggling problem before February 2022”. As the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported in October 2018, “Ukraine has long been a hot spot in the global arms trade, and this situation has intensified since the beginning of the conflict in Donbass in 2014. As EUobserver analyzed in December 2021, the number of attempts to smuggle firearms from Ukraine to Poland and other EU countries has increased in recent years.

The Frontex report also points to the worsening economic situation in EU countries. Frontex draws attention to the fact that "rising inflation and the economic difficulties faced by large sections of the populations will increase the likelihood that firearms legally or illegally owned by civilians and small businesses will end up among the hands of criminals.

Philippe Rosenthal

The opinions expressed by analysts cannot be considered as emanating from the portal's editors. They are the sole responsibility of the authors.

Originally in French

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