Weapons sent to Ukraine after Russia’s invasion in February will end up in the global hidden economy and in the hands of criminals, the head of Interpol has said.
Jürgen Stock says once the conflict ends, a wave of guns and heavy arms will flood the international market and he urged Interpol’s member states, especially those supplying weapons, to cooperate on arms tracing.
“Once the guns fall silent [in Ukraine], the illegal weapons will come. We know this from many other theatres of conflict. The criminals are even now, as we speak, focusing on them,” Stock said.
“Criminal groups try to exploit these chaotic situations and the availability of weapons, even those used by the military and including heavy weapons. These will be available on the criminal market and will create a challenge. No country or region can deal with it in isolation because these groups operate at a global level.”
He added: “We can expect an influx of weapons in Europe and beyond. We should be alarmed and we have to expect these weapons to be trafficked not only to neighbouring countries but to other continents.”
He said Interpol urged members to use its database to help “track and trace” the weapons. “We are in contact with member countries to encourage them to use these tools. Criminals are interested in all kinds of weapons … basically any weapons that can be carried might be used for criminal purposes.”
Ukraine’s western allies have sent shipments of high-end military weapons to Ukraine since the Russian invasion more than three months ago. On Tuesday, the American president, Joe Biden, announced the US would supply Kyiv with advanced missile systems and munitions. After the US pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, following 20 years of war, huge amounts of often highly sophisticated military equipment was left behind and fell into the hands of the Taliban.
Stock, the secretary general of the international policing organisation who was speaking to the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris, said the conflict in Ukraine had also led to a rise in large-scale fertiliser theft and an increase in counterfeit agrochemicals. There was also a huge rise in fuel theft. “These products have become more valuable,” he said.
Asked about alleged sanctions-busting and money laundering by Russian oligarchs faced with international restrictions, he said Interpol was investigating neither these nor alleged war crimes as Interpol’s constitution forbade the organisation to get involved in political activity and had to remain neutral.
However, he added the organisation had received a request from Ukraine to help with the identification of those killed in the conflict. “We are not in Ukraine but we could help with this. It is classical identification work,” said Stock.
Other requests would be considered by Interpol on a “case by case” basis, taking into consideration Interpol’s “strict neutrality”, he added. “Our channels of communication remain open [to member countries] for an exchange of war crimes information. But we are not looking at war crimes; Interpol has no investigating powers.”