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Where and how illegal weapons are sold in Ukraine?

Author : Ksenia Tsyvirko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Ukrainian law establishes that civilians can only carry hunting firearms or traumatic pistols, while military specimens remain the prerogative of the servicemen. At the same time, in news reports combat Makarov pistols and TT, Kalashnikovs of various modifications, hand grenades and grenade launchers surfaced on the peaceful part of the country
22:56, 24 June 2020

Open source

According to the The Small Arms Survey, in 2017 there were from 3 to 5 million units of illegal weapons in the country, with each year this number grows by tens of thousands. As a result, experts came to the conclusion: every tenth Ukrainian carries small arm or keeps an automatic machine gun in his garage without permission. Over the past decade, little has changed on the black market: samples of Soviet technology are still in great demand, and the same “werewolves in uniform” are engaged in protecting and even organizing illegal business. However, the war in the east and the annexation of Crimea made adjustments by changing the level of demand and prices for weapons. Criminal elements, in turn, also do not lag behind the challenges of our time and do not disdain "IT" technologies: mock-ups for 3D printing of pistols are actively distributed on the network.

In October last year, a resident of one of the villages in the Dnipropetrovsk region decided to go mushrooming into the forest. The 44-year-old man looked carefully underfoot in search of food, but found not a flock of mushrooms, but caches with weapons and ammunition. He handed over two Mukha rocket launchers and a hundred rounds of ammunition for the AK-74 to the local police department, and he forever remembered: now the gifts of nature in the forest have become much more diverse ...

Andriy Kryschenko, Facebook

"This is the classic way that weapons are now being sold. Usually it goes straight from Donbas conflict zone. The buyer pays, they send him the exact coordinates with geolocation, he arrives and picks up the bundle pre-prepared in the forest. In the eastern regions of Ukraine - in Kharkiv region, in Zaporizhya and Dnipropetrovsk, such caches and hiding places are not uncommon: they are found either by mushroom pickers, or by homeless people looking for scrap, or by teenagers looking for adventure. Sometimes the caches found by the police are not made for sale: these hiding places were allegedly prepared by veterans of the volunteer battalions in case of an attack by Moscow. But, most likely, it was intended for other purposes," explains the former senior commissioner of the Criminal Department of the National Police.

According to the policeman, without connections with the criminal world, special friendship with law enforcement officers or acquaintances with combatants, the average Ukrainian will not be able to buy a combat weapon. “The main thing is to get support in one of these three social groups, which are closely interconnected. Former volunteers work in various structures of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the criminal world provides a sales market, police officers monitor the processes. And the purchase method is already a secondary issue. You can even order it by mail through darknet," says a former criminal investigator. So, the “dark network” offers a lot of stores with illegal firearms in Ukraine, sellers promise to deliver the purchase within 3 days.

"We provide complete safety when sending goods! Sending is done by mail: in several parts under the guise of spare parts for household appliances (if you order a rifle, machine gun or submachine gun) in separate boxes or in one package in a computer case (if you order a gun or revolver of small size)", - they write on the website of one of the popular" gun shops "on the darknet.

It would seem that everything is simple: it’s enough just to register on the website of the “dark network” under any name, pay for the order with conditionally anonymous bitcoins and specify the address - and in a few days a parcel of international significance will arrive. However, such services on the darknet often turn out to be fraudulent, and after sending the money the administration of the online store stops responding.

"The other side of the issue is that such sites can be" red "or" blue "and, in fact, are managed by special structures in law enforcement agencies to capture potential criminals. Secondly, the darknet does not provide complete anonymity; therefore there is a risk, that the SBU will track the parcel. Therefore, if someone manages to buy a conditional gun on a darknet, then this is an exception to the rule. Such services exist, but only for "their own people". And popular sites known to anyone interested often work as bait for potential criminals, "- says police officer.

You can find many offers on the darknet. Some products are posted with erroneous specifications and photos, which may indicate fraud.

Dangerous reward

Analysts of The Small Arms Survey calculated in 2017 that there were from 3 to 6 million illegal firearms in Ukraine, and settled on an average of 4.1 million units. Since then, this amount has increased by another 100 000 -120 000 units, experts say. However, official data from government agencies show more modest results. So, on average, annually 6 000-8 000 criminal proceedings are instituted for illegal circulation, 1.5-2.5 thousand firearms are seized, and Ukrainians voluntarily surrender about 3-4 thousand weapons and ammunition to exempt from criminal liability . Legally, according to officials, approximately 1.2 million units of firearms are in the hands of "civilians", while a single centralized (or at least regional) record is not kept. The requirements for the future owner of the weapon and the rules for obtaining permission are spelled out in the Order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs No. 622. However, from the point of view of impartial jurisprudence, such a purchase can also conditionally be declared illegal. According to experts, our country is like the Wild West for crime: the Constitution states that weapons-related issues should be regulated exclusively by law, which, unlike all other European countries, has not yet been adopted.

It is worth noting that the official permit gives the right to buy only a hunting rifle (long-barrel smoothbore and rifled weapons) and a traumatic pistol (the list of persons is determined by the same order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which among others includes MPs, journalists, members of public organizations for the protection of the border and public order and etc.) But the short-barreled rifled weapons - that is, pistols and revolvers, which are most often mentioned in criminal reports - are not officially sold anywhere. Civilians receive it only "for special services to the state" as an award weapon. According to the Ukrainian Association of Weapon Owners, over 30 years of independence, Ukrainian security forces awarded officials with nearly 50 000 units of military weapons of any kind. Sometimes it seemed to be funny: for example, in 2015, the then Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk received Maxim machine gun as a reward from the Ministry of Internal Affairs ... At the same time, the Ministry of Internal Affairs budget does not have a separate item of expenditures for the purchase of premium weapons: officials assure him that they are donated by philanthropists or handed voluntarily by law abiding citizens to the police.

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“True, some Ukrainians voluntarily give military weapons and ammunition: the National Police annually organize a special month for this. But for the“ outstanding services, ”the minister gives new and elite samples of military weapons that no volunteer would provide. Actually, this is a way of legalizing illegally bought units. The media has repeatedly mentioned that one of the oldest and largest arms store chains imported firearms with fraud in customs operations into Ukraine, for example, sniper rifles were declared as hunting rifles according to documents, and combat pistols like Glock, Beretta and Sig-Sauer, according to the Ukrainian classification of goods of foreign economic activity, were cleared under the guise of “semi-automatic sports firearms.” I can say that most of the facts still remain hidden from the eyes of an outside observer and will remain so: it is the will of the Ministry of Internal Affairs top leadership," said N., a former employee of the department for combating economic crimes of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Donetsk region.

However, now, without exception, all large arms stores are associated with law enforcement agencies, because without their assistance they would not be able to work: they need to go through a complicated procedure to obtain a license for conducting such kind of business activities. In addition, some have their own sports and archery complexes: after passing the appropriate courses, the local instructors issue a certificate of weapons handling skills, which is needed to obtain permission to purchase and own them. According to the former policeman, now you can buy a gun only with help of people in law enforcement agencies, and the method of sale is already of secondary importance. The black market as such has not existed for at least 10 years: it has long become "gray" and came under the control of a police state. This became especially noticeable after the Revolution of Dignity, "adds the source.

What is the price

According to analysts at The Small Arms Survey, the military conflict in the eastern Ukraine greatly influenced the pricing of firearms. Moreover, in Donbas zone it can be purchased many times cheaper than on the black market in the central and western regions of the country. The price is also influenced by the design features of the technique: for example, the AKM (modernized Kalashnikov assault rifle) with a wooden butt are uncomfortable to wear, designed for a rather scarce cartridge of 7.62 mm caliber and cost from 450 to 600 dollars on the black market. AKSU (shortened Kalashnikov assault rifle), which is called "Ksenia", and AK-74 are more expensive due to the compactness and accessibility of 5.45 mm caliber cartridges - from $ 550

Of course, the main assortment of illegal firearms is formed at the expense of Soviet copies. They come to the black market mainly as trophy weapons (seized during the fighting) and stolen from military depots at the dawn of the independence of the state. But there are another permanent “suppliers” - black diggers who are engaged in archaeological excavations and are looking for weapons buried underground. Sometimes such "archaeologists" find rare guns and pistols, which restorers bring in a "divine" working form. So, at specialized forums Luger’s self-loading pistol (developed back in 1898 and released with a circulation of up to 5 million pieces), the Browning M1900 (developed in 1896, and up to 1 million copies in total) and many rifles repeatedly “popped up”.

Reactivated and converted weapons

Experts of The Small Arms Survey estimate the volume of the illegal military weapons market in Ukraine at about 3-6 million units. But most of all concerns are caused by the so-called converted and reactivated weapons, which from completely legal signal-noise, traumatic specimens turn into deadly weapons in skillful hands. First of all, we are talking about starting pistols that are in free circulation and are available for purchase without permission, as well as traumatic, designed for shooting with elastic bullets. As a rule, trunks in such specimens are made from less durable materials, which when used with a live cartridge can simply explode in the firing hand. However, some samples are made of fairly durable plastic, which may well “come off” for a “deadly” shot, or even of weapons-grade steel; individual pistols are exact replicas of combat prototypes, and sometimes “injuries” cannot be distinguished from those of real weapons.

According to experts, Turkish-made starting pistols (for example, Zoraki and Ekol) are especially popular in Europe: almost 8.5 million units were sold worldwide from 2010 to 2016, and Ukraine took 8th place in the ranking of the most major importers. Buyers are also attracted by an affordable price: on average, such a “toy” will cost $ 100-150. So that from such a pistol it was possible to shoot live ammunition, its barrel is strengthened with a metal casing or replaced with a more durable one. Two years ago, the security service spotted such a workshop in the capital: two residents of the Kyiv-Svyatoshinsky district bought parts on online forums, "upgraded" starting and traumatic pistols to combat versions and sold for 800-1200 dollars.

Despite the fact that this practice of “gunsmiths” has existed for a very long time, in the EU they began to refer to the definition of “firearms” as “weapons that can be converted” only in 2008, and the technical specification for starting pistols began to be prepared 10 years later.

Handicraft weapon

Despite the relative availability of military weapons, far from all criminals can reach the “right” people, especially in the case of “amateur” and “hungry” minor robberies. Forensic experts remember homemade pistols and submachine guns from the legendary 90s: some of them were not inferior to industrial designs in terms of engineering level. According to them, now there are almost no such finds: criminals use simple guns and sawn-off shotguns.

However, over the past decade, technology has taken a significant step forward, and now the lathe has begun to compete with a 3D printer in the manufacture of improvised firearms. So, in May 2013, 25-year-old American Cody Wilson presented the world's first Liberator plastic gun and laid out a free model for printing. "Liberator" consists of 16 parts and has only 1 metal element – a firing pin made of a nail (when fired, it breaks the cartridge capsule). A single-shot pistol is designed for only 11 rounds with a 9 * 17 mm cartridge, but the cheapness and speed of 3D printing with plastic can easily replace it with a new one. In the same year, the Texas company Solid Concepts demonstrated the capabilities of 3D metal printing - and presented to the public a “printed” copy of the Colt M1911 pistol. True, so far such copies have not received wide distribution: the "listing" of a metal barrel costs almost 12 thousand dollars. However, in search of individual weapons parts, a 3D printer becomes indispensable: dozens of layouts for printing receiver boxes and frames for semi-automatic pistols are widespread on the network.

Black market chronicles

The biggest volume of firearms on the black market was formed back in the 90s: in the first years after independence, the processes of accounting for military-technical property were not established in Ukraine, and firearms were stolen en masse from weapons depots. However, at that time the war seemed ghostly, distant and impossible, and thefts mainly occurred with the aim of subsequent profits from non-ferrous scrap metal. Such a “squandering” in 2004, the then Minister of Defense Yevgen Marchuk estimated at 926 billion UAH (174 billion dollars) and said that the Armed Forces of Ukraine do not need more than 1 million tons of ammunition, of which 300 thousand tons need to be disposed of urgently. Moreover, the disposal concerned not only “obsolete” and “unnecessary” munitions that contained gold and copper, but also small arms. For example, at the military arsenal in Lozova (Kharkiv region) 45.7 million Kalashnikov rifles, 5.1 thousand Makarov pistols, 1.14 million Vladimirov heavy machine guns were waiting for disposal; and 3.67 million AK-74 assault rifles, 16.67 million AKM, 87 thousand Makarov pistols were intended for disposal at the military arsenal in Novobogdanivka in Zaporizhzhya region. According to one version, repeated fires in the military unit in Novobogdanivka were designed to hide the theft. However, on the other hand, at that time the arsenals were full, and only 3% of them had storage conditions that met safety standards.

The situation when the weapon was considered superfluous and unnecessary changed radically during the Revolution of Dignity and after it: people literally began to hunt for it. In February 2014, protesters in Lviv seized the buildings of the SBU, regional departments of the prosecutor’s office, police and the Galytsky regional department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where service weapons were stored in specialized. In the same way, fighters from Ukrainian volunteer detachments seized weapons rooms in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, going in the summer of 2014 to attack the Donbas militias (who, in turn, captured the only ammunition factory in Ukraine in Luhansk). According to official estimates, from 2013 to 2015, at least 300 thousand gunshot weapons were looted and lost - 100 thousand in the Crimea and 200 thousand in the ATO. It is impossible to calculate how much was lost or damaged during direct combat clashes and how much was precisely won as a captured weapon.

A similar “hole” in the firearms accounting system was formed as a result of systematic fires at arsenals throughout Ukraine: since 2014, 8 such incidents have occurred. The Verkhovna Rada organized a separate commission of inquiry on this fact, its head said that a few days before the fire in Balakliya, the revision committee found a shortage. So, according to David Arahamia, the losses from explosions in Ukrainian ammunition depots over the past 2.5 years amounted to more than $ 2 billion.

The lack of accurate accounting and confusion create the most favorable conditions for organizing the illegal arms trade: everything can be attributed to enemy sabotage, "combat losses" and just military conditions. And the servicemen themselves, being at the moment the main "supplier" of firearms, not only in Ukraine but also in Europe, do not lose. Having outlined the "European movement vector", the army is gradually switching to arming according to NATO standards. And an outdated Soviet rifle, unsuitable for "professional military operations", is perfect for gangster shootings on the country's peaceful territory.

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