Weapons: July 18, 2005

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Ukraine is in danger of, literally, blowing up. Blame it on the gunrunners. Since the early 1990s, the center for international gunrunning has been eastern Europe, especially Ukraine. This was no accident, for after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine because the location of the largest collection of surplus and poorly guarded weapons and munitions on the planet. This was because, when the Soviet Union was dissolved, it was agreed that wherever weapons and munitions were, they immediately belonged to whatever new country they found themselves in. The Soviet Union dissolved into 14 new nations, with Ukraine being one of the largest. Moreover, Ukraine was also the location of the second echelon units massed for a possible war with NATO. This war had been expected since the 1950s, and the Soviet Union had concentrated over thirty combat divisions in the Ukraine, as well as thousands of aircraft, over seven million weapons (from pistols to tanks) and over two million tons of munitions. Thats lots of stuff, far more than Ukraine would ever need. Ukraines new army has only ten divisions. The mountains of Soviet era munitions were meant to supply over a hundred divisions moving west towards the English Channel. But the munitions were never used, and have been sitting around since 1991, or longer, often much longer.

Moreover, the munitions were not only old, but often stored out in the open, and not well guarded. The guards themselves, underpaid officers and conscript troops, were easily reached by well financed gunrunners. Thus were the 1990s noted for an abundance of cheap, Cold War surplus, Russian weapons. AK-47s, RPGs, hand grenades, mortars, land mines and light artillery were all hot items. The gunrunners even hired huge, intercontinental, air transports that had previously served in the Soviet air force. The Soviet armed forces had rapidly shrunk after the dissolution. The troops were gone, but their weapons and equipment were not. Many weapons were left to rot. A few years of frigid East European Winters, rainy Springs and scorching Summers, tends to destroy anything left in the open. Lots of this stuff is out in the open. Through the 1990s, the gunrunners cherry picked the salable, and stable, stuff. Over a million tons of old, unstable and unwanted bombs and shells are ready to go off if theres a lightning strike, a brush fire or just some unstable explosives getting a little too unstable. The gunrunners don't care, and for over a decade, Ukrainian officials were more interested in selling off the marketable stuff, and generally ignored the mountains of moldering munitions .

The new, reform minded, government in Ukraine has shut down much of the corruption and gunrunning, and turned to cleaning up the unneeded munitions. NATO has agreed to pay for a $30 million program to dispose of 133,000 tons of munitions and 1.5 million weapons. This will begin in the Fall. Meanwhile, Ukraine remains as explosive situation.

 


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