Selling Arms to Rogue States
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
Also published by United Press International (UPI)
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October 30, 2002
In a desperate bid to fend off sanctions, the Bosnian government banned yesterday all trade in arms and munitions. A local, Serb-owned company was documented by the State Department selling spare parts and maintenance for military aircraft to Iraq via Yugoslav shell companies.
Heads rolled. In the Republika Srpska, the Serb component of the ramshackle Bosnian state, both the Defense Minister Slobodan Bilic and army Chief of Staff Novica Simic resigned. Another casualty was the general director of the Orao Aircraft Institute of Bijeljina - Milan Prica. On the Yugoslav side, Jugoimport chief Gen Jovan Cekovic and federal Deputy Defense Minister Ivan Djokic stood down.
Bosnia's is only the latest in a series of embarrassing disclosures in practically every country of the former eastern bloc, including all the EU accession candidates. With the crumbling of the Warsaw pact and the economies of the region, millions of former military and secret service operators resorted to peddling weapons and martial expertise to rogue states, terrorist outfits, and organized crime. The confluence - and, lately, convergence - of these interests is threatening Europe's very stability.
Last week, the Polish "Rzeczpospolita" accused the Military Information services (WSI) of illicit arms sales between 1992-6 through both private and state-run entities. The weapons were plundered from the Polish army and sold at half price to Croatia and Somalia, both under UN arms embargo.
Deals were struck with the emerging international operations of the Russian mafia. Terrorist middlemen and Latvian state officials were involved. Breaching Poland's democratic veneer, the Polish Ministry of Defense threatened to sue the paper for disclosing state secrets.
Police in Lodz is still investigating the alarming disappearance of 4 Arrow anti-aircraft missiles from a train transporting arms from a factory to the port of Gdansk, to be exported. The private security escort claim innocence.
The Czech Military Intelligence Services (VZS) have long been embroiled in serial scandals. The Czech defense attaché to India, Miroslav Kvasnak, was recently fired for disobeying explicit orders from the minister of defense. According to Jane's, Kvasnak headed URNA - the elite anti-terrorist unit of the Czech National Police. He was sacked in 1995 for selling Semtex, the notorious Czech plastic explosive, as well as weapons and munitions to organized crime gangs.
In late August, the Czechs arrested arms traffickers, members of an international ring, for selling Russian weapons - including, incredibly, tanks, fighter planes, naval vessels, long range rockets, and missile platforms - to Iraq. The operation has lasted 3 years and was conducted from Prague.
According to the "Wall Street Journal", the Czech intelligence services halted the sale of $300 million worth of the Tamara radar systems to Iraq in 1997. Czech firms, such as Agroplast, a leading waste processing company, have often been openly accused of weapons smuggling. "The Guardian" tracked in February a delivery of missiles and guidance systems from the Czech Republic through Syria to Iraq.
German go-betweens operate in the Baltic countries. In May a sale of more than two pounds of the radioactive element cesium-137 was thwarted in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The substance was sold to terrorist groups bent on producing a "dirty bomb", believe US officials quoted by "The Guardian". The Director of the CIA, John Deutsch, testified in Congress in 1996 about previous cases in Lithuania involving two tons of radioactive wolfram and 220 pounds of uranium-238.
Still, the epicenters of the illicit trade in weapons are in the Balkan, in Russia, and in the republics of the former Soviet Union. Here, domestic firms intermesh with Western intermediaries, criminals, terrorists, and state officials to engender a pernicious, ubiquitous and malignant web of smuggling and corruption.
According to the Center for Public Integrity and the Western media, over the last decade, renegade Russian army officers have sold weapons to every criminal and terrorist organization in the world - from the IRA to al-Qaida and to every failed state, from Liberia to Libya.
They are protected by well-connected, bribe-paying, arms dealers and high-level functionaries in every branch of government. They launder the proceeds through Russian oil multinationals, Cypriot, Balkan, and Lebanese banks, and Asian, Swiss, Austrian, and British trading conglomerates - all obscurely owned and managed.
The most serious breach of the united international front against Iraq may be the sale of the $100 million anti-stealth Ukrainian Kolchuga radar to the pariah state two years ago. Taped evidence suggests that president Leonid Kuchma himself instructed the General Director of the Ukrainian arms sales company, UkrSpetzExport, Valery Malev to conclude the deal. Malev died in a mysterious car accident on March 6, three days after his taped conversation with Kuchma surfaced.
The Ukrainians insist that they were preempted by Russian dealers who sold a similar radar system to Iraq - but this is highly unlikely as the Russian system was still in development at the time. the American and British are currently conducting a high-profile investigation in Kyiv.
In Russia, illegal arms are traded mainly by the Western Group of Forces in cahoots with private companies, both domestic and foreign. The Air Defense Army specializes in selling light arms. The army is the main source of weapons - plastic explosives, grenade launchers, munitions - of both Chechen rebels and Chechen criminals. Contrary to received opinion, volunteer-soldiers, not conscripts, control the arms trade. The state itself is involved in arms proliferation. Sales to China and Iran were long classified. From June, all sales of materiel enjoy "state secret" status.
There is little the US can do. The Bush administration has imposed in May sanctions on Armenian and Moldovan companies, among others, for aiding and abetting Iran's efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Armenian president, Robert Kocharian, indignantly denied knowledge of such transactions and vowed to get to the bottom of the American allegations.
The Foreign Policy Research Institute, quoted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, described a "Department of Energy (DOE) initiative, underway since 1993, to improve 'material protection, control and accountability' at former Soviet nuclear enterprises. The program enjoys substantial bipartisan support in the United States and is considered the first line of defense against unwanted proliferation episodes."
"As of February 2000, more than 8 years after the collapse of the USSR, new security systems had been installed at 113 buildings, most of them in Russia; however, these sites contained only 7 percent of the estimated 650 tons of weapons-usable material considered at risk for theft or diversion. DOE plans call for safeguarding 60 percent of the material by 2006 and the rest in 10 to 15 years or longer."
Russian traders learned to circumvent official channels and work through Belarus. Major General Stsyapan Sukharenka, the first deputy chief of the Belarusian KGB, denied, in March, any criminal arms trading in his country. This vehement protest is gainsaid by the preponderance of Belarusian arms traders replete with fake end-user certificates in Croatia during the Yugoslav wars of secession (1992-5).
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer said that UN inspectors unearthed Belarusian artillery in Iraq in 1996. Iraqis are also being trained in Belarus to operate various advanced weapons systems. The secret services and armies of Ukraine, Russia, and even Romania use Belarus to mask the true origin of weapons sold in contravention of UN sanctions.
Western arms manufacturers lobby their governments to enhance their sales. Legitimate Russian and Ukrainian sales are often thwarted by Western political arm-twisting. When Macedonia, in the throes of a civil war it was about to lose, purchased helicopter gunships from Ukraine, the American Embassy leaned on the government to annul the contracts and threatened to withhold aid and credits if it does not succumb.
The duopoly, enjoyed by the USA and Russia, forces competitors to go underground and to seek rogue or felonious customers. Yugoslav scientists, employed by Jugoimport and other firms run by former army officers, are developing cruise missiles for Iraq, alleges the American administration. The accusation, though, is dubious as Iraq has no access to satellites to guide such missiles.
Another Yugoslav firm, Brunner, constructed a Libyan rocket propellant manufacturing facility. In an interview to the "Washington Post", Yugoslavia's president Vojislav Kostunica brushed off the American complaints about, as he put it disdainfully, "overhauling older-generation aircraft engines".
Such exploits are not unique to Yugoslavia or Bosnia. The Croat security services are notorious for their collusion in drug and arms trafficking, mainly via Hungary. Macedonian construction companies collaborate with manufacturers of heavy machinery and purveyors of missile technology in an effort to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraqi debts. Albanian crime gangs collude with weapon smugglers based in Montenegro and Kosovo. The Balkan - from Greece to Hungary - is teeming with these penumbral figures.
Arms smuggling is a by-product of criminalized societies, destitution, and dysfunctional institutions. The prolonged period of failed transition in countries such as Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Moldova, Belarus, and Ukraine has entrenched organized crime. It now permeates every legitimate economic sphere and every organ of the state. Whether this situation is reversible is the subject of heated debate. But it is the West which pays the price in increased crime rates and, probably in Iraq, in added fatalities once it launches war against that murderous regime.
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