November 4, 2022 - 7:15am

On Sunday a story appeared in Finnish outlet Yle, claiming that criminals in several European countries have seized military equipment intended for troops fighting in Ukraine. Working off preliminary “signs”, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Detective Superintendent Christer Ahlgren told Yle that “weapons shipped to Ukraine have also been found in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.” He added: “Ukraine has received a large volume of weapons and that’s good, but we’re going to be dealing with these arms for decades and pay the price here.”

Ahlgren’s claim comes in light of Europol’s warning in July that ‘the proliferation of firearms and explosives in Ukraine could lead to an increase in firearms and munitions trafficked into the EU’, either through smuggling routes or online. Earlier this year, experts cautioned that controls were needed to prevent munitions flooding the black market across the continent. Just days before the Yle story broke, the US Department of State announced its plan to tackle the illicit diversion of weapons sent to Ukraine, citing ‘Russia’s forces, Russia’s proxies, and non-state actors’ as potential criminal agents.

The Ukrainian government was quick to deny Ahlgren’s claims, saying that ‘the information [in Yle] about the smuggling channel of Ukrainian weapons to Finland is fake.’ More recently, Finland’s own police have also contradicted Ahlgren’s supposed findings. On Tuesday Markus Välimäki, deputy head of the same organisation, said: “Based on the interview of our expert [Ahlgren], people may have got the impression that there have already been weapons trafficked to Finland. However, we have no evidence of such a phenomenon.” According to Välimäki, equipment falling into the hands of gangsters is a possibility, not an observed reality. 

A report last year from the Small Arms Survey stated that ‘the outbreak of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine in 2014 led to the widespread proliferation of small arms, light weapons, and their ammunition.’ It suggests that this equipment has spread around Ukraine for criminal use, but not that it has been transported to networks elsewhere in Europe. 

The problem, according to the Yle report, lies primarily in the spread of small, automatic weapons. The Finns have so far sent nine shipments of military material, the most recent in the second week of October, including at least 2500 rifles and 150,000 cartridges. Ahlgren did not specify what types of arms had been intercepted in Finland.

According to Välimäki, the NBI is in possession of intelligence which could support Ahlgren’s claims of trafficking in neighbouring countries, but he refused to divulge further detail. Dismissing the possibility of a wide-scale diversion of arms, Välimäki said that “there is no reason to worry” before adding: “Organised crime is extremely agile in situations where they can get weapons”. As such, only a very limited number of weapons could make their way to criminal gangs.

Representatives of the national crime agencies of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands have not addressed the story, and have made no public comment in the past few days as to whether criminal networks in their countries have seized arms bound for Ukraine. None of them, nor Finland’s NBI, responded to requests for comment from UnHerd

is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.