Footnotes: Takeaways from Previous Small Arms Survey Research on Ukraine
The conflict in Ukraine is raising concerns about arms proliferation risks in the country and broader region, present and future. Our previous research on Ukraine provides insight into how these dynamics played out following the 2014–15 conflict in eastern Ukraine.
After the beginning of the conflict in 2014, groups and individuals supporting the two sides looted some of the state-owned arms and ammunition storage facilities. Officials estimated that by 2015, battlefield seizures and other forms of diversion led to 300,000 small arms and light weapons going missing, including 100,000 in Crimea alone. Officials also indicated that most of these weapons were looted from overrun Ukrainian military facilities.
Learn more: Measuring Illicit Arms Flows: Ukraine (p.4)
These events led to the widespread circulation of military-grade small arms and light weapons outside of state control. Thousands of hand grenades, for instance, found their way into the hands of criminals and other unauthorized end-users throughout the country.
Weapons and ammunition sourced from eastern Ukraine were also regularly found for sale on the open internet.
After 2015 and through daily seizures of illicit ammunition, Ukrainian authorities have removed thousands of illicit munitions from circulation. However, the sheer volume of loose weapons dwarfed enforcement efforts, with deadly consequences for Ukrainian citizens.
Learn more: Making the Rounds: Illicit Ammunition in Ukraine (pp. 19–28, 37)
Despite the large quantities of illicit ammunition circulating in Ukraine after 2015, trafficking to neighbouring countries and elsewhere in Europe remained minimal.
Learn more: Making the Rounds: Illicit Ammunition in Ukraine (pp. 39–48)
The reasons for this are hard to pin down, but efforts to secure Ukraine’s borders and dismantle trafficking networks undoubtedly helped deter and disrupt some — perhaps most — cross-border arms trafficking.
Learn more: Making the Rounds: Illicit Ammunition in Ukraine (pp. 49–53)
Another factor may lie in demand for small arms remaining high in Ukraine after 2015, which could partially be attributed to the unresolved conflict in the eastern part of the country and general anxiety towards local security conditions, as we have observed in other settings. In Libya, for instance, while significant outbound trafficking occurred following the 2011 armed conflict and looting of the national stockpile, it seemed to reduce in subsequent years. This, in part due to the resumption of conflict in 2014 and increased demand for weapons in Libya itself.
Learn more: Weapons Compass: Mapping Illicit Small Arms Flows in Africa (p.50)
Overall, our research (both on Ukraine and beyond) has generally highlighted the extreme difficulty of recovering arms and ammunition lost during mass proliferation events, and armed conflict more generally.
For more information and resources on arms flows and armed violence, visit the Small Arms Survey resource library.
Blog posts are intended as a way for various Small Arms Survey collaborators and researchers to discuss small arms- and armed violence-related issues, and do not necessarily reflect the views of either the Small Arms Survey or its donors.