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US security assistance to Ukraine raises alarm about arms smuggling in illicit markets

ANI | Updated: Jul 17, 2022 21:00 IST


Washington [US], July 17 (ANI): Amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Washington's heavy outpour of missiles, rockets, and artilleries to war-torn Ukraine has raised fears of the powerful weapons entering Ukraine's illicit arms market and that some of them could also re-emerge in faraway conflicts for decades to come.
President Joe Biden is expected to sign a USD 40 billion security-assistance package in the coming days amid urgent pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to provide artillery needed to counter Russian forces in the country's east and south.
However, the ballooning of Ukraine's illicit arms market since Russia's initial invasion in 2014, was buttressed by a surplus of loose weapons and limited controls on their use, The Washington Post reported.
"It's just impossible to keep track of not only where they're all going and who is using them, but how they are being used," said Rachel Stohl, an arms-control expert and vice president at the Stimson Center.
United States has conducted thorough vetting of the Ukrainian units it supplies while forcing Kyiv to sign agreements that "do not allow the retransfer of equipment to third parties without prior US government authorization," said a US State Department spokesman.
In mid-April, the United States showcased its interest in the Ukraine conflict by announcing that it would transfer a fleet of Mi-17 helicopters to Ukraine that it originally purchased from Russia about a decade ago, however, Russia denounced the transfer, saying it "grossly violates the foundations of international law."
"Breaking of those end-use agreements is a serious threat to the underlying, but weak, capacity for countries to control how weapons are used," said Jeff Abramson, an expert on conventional arms transfers at the Arms Control Association.
A Pentagon spokesman dismissed the criticisms, calling Russian charges a distraction and the transfer "permissible under U.S. law and consistent with our national security priorities."
"Russia's claims are a disingenuous attempt to distract attention from Russia's unprovoked invasion and its history of aggressive actions against Ukraine since 2014," said Marine Corps Lt. Colonel Anton T. Semelroth.
Notably, the emergency spending bill awaiting approval in the US Senate will cement Ukraine's status as the world's single largest recipient of US security assistance, receiving more in 2022 than the United States ever provided to Afghanistan, Iraq or Israel in a single year.

The bill will also add to the stocks of weapons the US already committed to Ukraine, including 1,400 Stinger antiaircraft systems, 5,500 antitank missiles, 700 Switchblade drones, 90 long-range Howitzers artillery systems, 7,000 small arms, 50,000,000 rounds of ammunition, and numerous other mines, explosives and laser-guided rocket systems, The Washington Post reported.
"Officials estimated that at least 300,000 small arms and light weapons were looted or lost between 2013 and 2015," providing a boon to the country's black market run by Mafia-style groups in the Donbas region and other criminal networks and the problem grew more acute after Russia's invasion in 2014, which saw combatants looting arms and munition-storage facilities of Ukraine's Security Service, Interior and Defense ministries.
Weeks after Russia's latest invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, a group of interagency officials in the Biden administration met with outside arms-control experts to discuss the risk of small-arms proliferation in the conflict. According to Stohl, who attended one of the meetings, US officials offered assurances about vetting Ukrainian security forces and addressing reports of unauthorized transfer -- but scant details on how the vetting or monitoring happens.
"It does not inspire much confidence," said Stohl.
Moreover, there are severe concerns among watchdog groups about arms proliferation stemming from Moscow amid reports it has enlisted mercenaries from Libya, Syria and Chechnya, as well as the Wagner Group, a Russian contractor.
During a televised meeting of Russia's Security Council in March, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East stood ready to fight alongside Russian-backed forces in Eastern Ukraine. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his approval, saying, "We need to give them what they want and help them get to the conflict zone," stated The Washington Post.
Shoigu proposed handing over captured US Javelin and Stinger missiles in the same meeting to pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region. "Please do this," Putin told Shoigu.
US security assistance to Ukraine has turned out to be more than USD 6.1 billion since Russia launched its "brutal, unprovoked, full-scale invasion" of Ukraine on February 24.
Washington through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in coordination with the US Department of the Treasury also contributed USD 1.7 billion as part of budgetary aid to Ukraine under President Joe Biden's commitment to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, USAID has been working closely with humanitarian partners in the country and region to reach Ukrainians with life-saving humanitarian assistance. The aid is also scaling up critical development assistance to respond to cyber-attacks and threats to the energy sector, countering disinformation, supporting small businesses and the agriculture sector, documenting human rights violations, meeting essential health needs, and ensuring the continued functioning of local and national government entities in the war-ravaged nation.
Notably, Russia launched a "special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24, which the West has termed an unprovoked war. As a result of this, the Western countries have also imposed several crippling sanctions on Moscow. (ANI)

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