A Hello to Arms: Is There a Black Market for Guns in Ukraine?
23 May, 2018

The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) arrested French citizen Gregoire Moutaux at the Ukrainian-Polish border in May 2016, claiming to have thwarted a far-right terrorist threat. At the time, Moutaux was allegedly carrying an arsenal of weapons in the trunk of his car, including five automatic kalashnikovs, two grenade launchers, 125 kilograms of TNT and 100 electric detonators.

To this day, Moutaux’s case remains the largest known attempt at smuggling weapons from the war in Donbas into Europe. What’s more, it calls into question whether the conflict in Ukraine’s east has created a new black market supplying weapons to extremists and criminal groups. 

While the SBU hailed Moutaux’s arrest as a victory against right-wing terrorism, French authorities were less than convinced. The Anti-terrorist Department in Paris deemed the information provided by the Ukrainian authorities “insufficient.” Meanwhile, local police investigations revealed only circumstantial evidence linking Moutaux to the far-right, ultranationalist political party Renouveau Francais (French Renewal).

Photo credit: Dmytro Rusanov/HROMADSKE

Despite the lack of coordination with French authorities, the Ukrainian case against Moutaux proceeded. Materials from the criminal case revealed that Moutaux reached out to servicemen from the Azov regiment of Ukraine’s national guard (who are known for their far-right views) offering money in exchange for obtaining weapons and ammunition. The Frenchman purchased these weapons from SBU agent and former Azov battalion soldier Mykhaylo Zubov, who he met in Donbas in 2015. Apparently, the weapons in Moutaux’s car were fakes, specially prepared by the SBU. 

The prosecution also provided audio recordings in which Moutaux allegedly reveals his plans to commit terrorist acts to Zubov. However, Moutaux neither confirmed nor denied their authenticity and refused to testify in court. Zubov was unable to testify because he commited suicide last spring.  

Photo credit: Dmytro Rusanov/HROMADSKE

On May 21, 2018 a Ukrainian court sentenced French citizen Gregoire Moutaux to six years in prison after finding him guilty of planning a terrorist attack and attempted weapons smuggling. 

The threat of politicized weapons trafficking remains as smugglers often have or seek links to right-wing nationalist groups. What’s more, this isn’t the first instance of Azov soldiers getting involved in the arms trade. In the unified state register of judicial rulings Hromadske found more than a dozen sentences against soldiers from the Azov regiment who attempted to take arms out of the warzone.

That said, the SBU stated that in recent years only a few isolated instances of arms trafficking to the West have been investigated. According to EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, the majority of arms in Europe come from the western Balkans.

/By Ihor Burdyha