Procurement: Russian Gunrunners Keep On Coming


May 31, 2009: For the second time in the last three months, Russian customs officials have announced the cracking of a ring of retired and active duty military personnel caught smuggling weapons. In this case, the gang had been operating for about two years and were stealing components for S-75 (a fifty year old system), S-125, S-200 and S-300 (a 1990s design) anti-aircraft missile systems, and smuggling them to neighboring countries (that used to be part of the Soviet Union), where they were sold, or exported to more distant nations that used these missile systems, and were interested in less expensive spare parts. At the time of the arrests, some 22 tons of missile parts were seized. This gang had apparently sold parts that returned to the thieves at least $10 million. Over a dozen officers were involved in the theft and smuggling of these items.

Back in March, Russian police caught a group of naval officers (including at least two admirals) trying to smuggle 30 anti-submarine missiles and 200 bombs to China. The shipment itself was caught at the Tajikistan border, mislabeled as older, obsolete, weapons. The shipment was actually new models, and the plot was apparently meant to enable China reverse-engineer the weapons and produce their own versions. The smugglers were apparently being paid $18 million for the shipment. The Russian admirals had arranged for the weapons to be classified as obsolete and eligible for disposal, but word of the scheme leaked out.

This theft and smuggling has been going on for nearly two decades, and became most rampant after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. It was even more common in other former communist countries, leading to a flood of AK-47s, machine-guns and RPG onto the black market. In Africa, this sudden appearance of cheap weapons eventually fueled fighting that killed millions of people. These days, the theft is more often of high tech, or rare, components, and weapons technology.




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