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Amid flow of weapons to Ukraine, DefMin says black market smuggling is ‘artificial’ concern

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III meets with Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Nov. 18, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Defense Department/Lisa Ferdinando)

WASHINGTON: Ukraine’s defense minister today dismissed concerns that weaponry sent to Ukraine by the United States and other nations could be diverted into the dark world of illegal arms trafficking, calling the worry “artificially engineered.”

“Since day one, we have worked in close cooperation with our partners to ensure full transparency. Additionally, approximately three months ago I addressed [the] states providing us with the weapons… and offered they send their monitoring missions to Ukraine,” Oleksii Reznikov said during a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council. “And several countries have done so.”

The defense minister’s comments come as both NATO and European Union nations reportedly have begun pressing Kyiv for stricter controls and tight management of the billions of dollars in ammunition and weapons flowing from Western countries meant to fend off Russian invaders.

Back in the US, despite overwhelming support for Ukraine on Capitol Hill, concerns about oversight have cropped up among at least one firebrand Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who made headlines in May by holding up new spending on the grounds that a special inspector general should be established. The US to date has committed approximately $7.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the Biden administration took office, according to the Pentagon.

Reznikov said to date Ukraine has been receptive to other countries’ suggestions on ways to maintain transparency. The defense minister also said he has discussed the issue with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

A senior US military official recently told reporters that the Pentagon has not seen any signs of smuggling or that any of the weapons the US has sent are being used by anyone other than the Ukrainian military, though the official admitted the US wasn’t meticulously following the arms.

“We are not tracking weapons,” the official said late last week. “And quite honestly, I mean, we feel pretty good that the Ukrainians are using the weapons that we’ve provided to them and have not seen any indications that those weapons have gone anywhere else other than to fight against the Russians.”

If NATO and European Union countries do implement more stringent controls to monitor the weapons flow, they’ll be facing an uphill climb.

“It’s just impossible to keep track of not only where they’re all going and who is using them, but how they are being used,” Rachel Stohl, an arms-control expert and vice president at the Stimson Center, told the Washington Post in May.

During today’s event, Reznikov said that Ukraine has ample reason to be transparent: the country’s survival depends on it.

“Ukraine is invested in ensuring control and transparency. This is in our best interest because we need to survive,” he said.

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