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Guns in Ukraine

Ukraine is home to an estimated ten million state- and civilian-owned firearms,1 2 yet lacks cohesive gun laws. The nation inherited vast quantities of Soviet-era small arms and ammunition, and is a known source of weapons to regions of conflict and human rights abuse.3 4 Official secrecy makes allegations of widespread arms trafficking, state-sanctioned or otherwise, difficult to allay. In a ‘Transparency Barometer’ of the world’s 40 largest arms-dealing nations, Ukraine ranks 36th.

Civilian Possession

Estimates of the number of guns in private hands range from 2.2 to 6.3 million. These suggest a median rate of 6.6 firearms per 100 people, although the higher figure would yield a rate of 13 per 100. In 2005, Ukraine ranked 84th in the world for the number of civilian firearms per capita.5 2

In response to a United Nations study, Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs reported a national total of 722,739 registered civilian firearms in 1997.6 This leaves uncounted a national stockpile of 1.5 million to 5.5 million undocumented, illicit small arms.

The average asking price for an AK-47 assault rifle in the Ukraine rose from US$250 in 1991-95, to US$350 in 2001-05.7

Government Guns

As recently as 2006, Ukraine had the world’s sixth largest military firearm inventory.1 8 A force of 1,187,600 military personnel (including one million reservists) controlled an estimated seven million military small arms, for a ratio of 5.9 weapons per person.1 9 Inherited as an ‘unsought burden’ by a former Soviet state with no current need for it,10 this vast Cold War arsenal offers a tempting source of hard currency to those who hold the keys, with no shortage of customers in regions of conflict.11 As a result, Ukraine is a prime target of international diplomacy to destroy surplus military small arms (see Production and Trade, Stockpile Surplus and Destruction).

Police in Ukraine are estimated to have 176,298 small arms at their disposal.12

Gun Death, Injury and Crime

In Ukraine, homicide by any method ranged from a high of 4,896 in 1996 (a rate of 9.58 per 100,000 population),13 down to 2,958 (6.35 per 100,000) in 2006.14 15 16 In the years 1995-97, an annual average of 253 homicides were said to be firearm-related, for a rate of 0.49 per 100,000.13 A decade later the number of gun homicides reported each year had fallen to 105 in 2005, then to 97 in 2006, yielding annual rates of 0.22 and 0.21 respectively.14 17 By world standards, the proportion of homicides committed with a firearm in Ukraine is in the low range (5.3 per cent to 3.5 per cent), but remains consistent with other countries in the region.14

The frequency of gun suicide, unintentional shootings, non-fatal firearm-related injury and gun crime in Ukraine are not known to have been internationally reported. Examples of trans-border firearm crime have been described in local news media. (see Smuggling and Trafficking).

Gun Control Law

Regulation of private firearms in Ukraine is ranked as permissive, rather than restrictive.18 Rifles and shotguns are allowed for hunting, target shooting, collection, protection of person or property and private security.6 Although Ukraine reported to the United Nations that civilian possession, import and export of handguns is prohibited for any use,6 ‘revolvers and pistols’ — and in one example, ‘sporting revolvers and pistols’ — are subject to regulation, but apparently not banned in Ukrainian firearm legislation.19 In December 2001, in response to a spate of attacks on reporters, the Interior Ministry allowed some investigative journalists to carry handguns that fire rubber bullets.20

According to a report presented by its government to the UN in 2003,21 'Ukraine has enacted adequate legislation and has put in place appropriate structures and procedures to exercise effective control over the small arms and light weapons.’ Since 1996, a series of presidential edicts and decrees22 have regulated licensing bodies, controlled goods, interagency processes and enforcement.23 Although Ukraine involves eleven different ministries and agencies in this process, very few individuals are engaged in the control of small arms.24

Ukraine inherited the Soviet civilian gun control system, which provides for restrictive gun owner licensing and the registration of all firearms. Yet in December 2003, the nation still had no legislation to control or limit civilian gun ownership.25 A draft law ‘On Weapons’ to regulate all firearms was introduced in 1995,6 but politicians in Ukraine have since failed to agree on which weapons private citizens may legally possess, and even ‘whether or not private ownership would increase crime or improve security.’ 25 At the time of writing, this lack of consensus persists.

Ukraine also reported to the UN that since independence all the nation's laws and procedures for small arms control have been reviewed, and that a new import/export law was enacted in 200321 (see Trade Control). In 2006, a joint NGO report to the UNPoA26 acknowledged Ukraine’s progress in adopting some international norms and policies to regulate firearms.27 But in the same year, a UN Human Rights Council report on small arms noted that of 38 nations surveyed, only Ukraine left unanswered each question regarding civilian firearm regulation and law.28

Gun Owner Licensing

Firearm licences are available in Ukraine for hunting, target shooting, collection, protection of person or property and private security. A 1997-99 UN survey reported 640,615 licensed gun owners, with 7.6 per cent of households holding at least one firearm.29 The minimum age to obtain a gun licence was 21, and non-citizens, applicants with a criminal record, a history of domestic violence or mental illness could be denied possession of a firearm. In the same UN survey, Ukraine did not respond to questions relating to licensing requirements, including any need for identification, references, training certification, fees, waiting period, background check, genuine reason for obtaining a licence, permits to purchase, photograph, curriculum vitae, planned storage or regulation variations for firearm classification.6

Separate hunting law in Ukraine suggests a minimum age for firearm possession of 18, though this could refer to hunting under the supervision of an older, licensed gun owner.16 6 Although no law requires proof of gun safety or proficiency training, Cabinet Decree #576 does require practical training, followed by an exam before issuing a permit to hunt with a firearm.6

A special permit is also required to carry a gun, with restrictions varying on the class and type of firearm.6 The number of civilians licensed to carry a concealed handgun in a public place is not known.

Weapon Storage and Transport

Civilian firearms must be stored unloaded and dismantled ‘in a hard metal or wooden safe with a solid lock. Ammunition must be kept in another place. If there are more than three firearms, the corresponding room or safe must be equipped with an alarm.’ In some cases trigger locks are required.30

A permit must be obtained before guns are transported in any way. All firearms must be unloaded, dismantled, and trigger-locked in transit.31

Record Keeping

Although Ukraine claims a centralised national firearm registry, this does not follow the international law enforcement norm, which is to keep updated records of guns from first sale, through subsequent transfers of ownership (see Marking and Tracing).

Marking and Tracing

Instead of a centralised register of firearms, Interior Ministry criminologists at the Centre for Criminal Research maintain a library of cartridge cases provided by gun owners. This could allow limited forensic matching and tracing of spent ammunition found at a crime scene. The ammunition registry is not open to the public, and Ukraine gave no response to a UN survey question asking if it is computerised.6

In 1999, Ukraine reported that authorities did not employ firearm and ammunition tracing technology.6 In the absence of a computerised register linking each firearm to its current civilian owner, law enforcement officers in Ukraine seem restricted in their ability to trace crime guns.

Penalties

Firearm-related sanctions in the penal code of Ukraine include prison terms of two to seven years. The civil code and Customs code also provide for fines, confiscation of property and seizure of goods and documents. Ukrainian officials regard these penalties as adequate, and call them a strong deterrent to abuse. Some argue that the few arrests and prosecutions recorded in Ukraine indicate low levels of illegal activity, rather than a lack of enforcement.32

Production and Trade

Ukraine is considered a ‘small’ producer of small arms and ammunition,33 with 20 state-controlled design bureaux and factories in 2001,34 producing pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, machine guns and ammunition.35 The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports that Ukraine does not manufacture firearms, components or ammunition for foreign civilian markets, and produces ammunition only for its own domestic civilian market.6

According to Ukraine’s state exporting agency, less than three per cent of its US$500 million total arms exports in 2000 were small arms and small arms ammunition, amounting to US$10-15 million annually.36 In a 2006 UN survey, Ukraine did not respond to questions on small arms production.37

Trade Control

The Ministry of Economy’s State Export Control Service is the hub of arms transfer control in Ukraine, responsible for tracking all imports, exports and in-country movements. By comparison with staff and budget allocations for other military technologies, the Service accords minimal resources to the control of small arms.23 24

In February 2003, the Law of Ukraine on State Control of International Transfers of Goods Designated for Military Purposes and Dual-Use Goods entered into force. This aimed to ‘govern activities related to state control over international transfers of goods designated for Military Purposes, including small arms and light weapons as well as their parts, materials and equipment specially designed for development and production of [small arms].’ If enforced, the law would improve state transparency, comply with international obligations, and limit illicit arms transfers from Ukraine to terrorist groups or for other illegal purposes.38

Ukraine’s 2003 arms trade law requires an exporter to first verify with the importer, then to declare to authorities both the real end user and the destination of the weapons. Both parties must certify that the goods will not be used for another purpose, or re-exported without prior consent from Ukraine.39 22

Arms Exports

A 2009 defence industry study concluded that in 2008, Ukraine earned US$1-1.2 billion from military arms exports of all types. This would suggest a 400 per cent increase since 1998, when arms exports earned just US$300 million. In 2008, Ukraine supplied goods of a military and dual designation to 80 countries across most regions: to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), 23 countries in Asia, 15 African countries and a few in the Americas. The same study showed the biggest importers of Ukrainian armaments and components of all types to be Russia, India, China, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, France and Algeria.40 In a subsequent interview, the director of Ukraine's arms trade agency announced total arms exports for 2008 at US$800 million, up from US$400 million in 2004.41

Estimating the firearms included in this trade, the UN Register of Conventional Arms showed the top ten recipients of small arms from Ukraine in 2007 to be the United States, the United Kingdom, Kenya, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Germany, Chad, France, the Czech Republic and Libya.42

Ukraine has a history of arms exports to areas of conflict, embargoed states and regimes known to commit human rights abuses.4 43 44 In 2005, following years of international criticism and bad press, its ambassador assured the UN that ‘Ukraine strictly adheres to the decisions taken by the UN Security Council, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Wassenaar Arrangement ... we also take into account the provisions of a Moratorium by the Economic Community of West African States on import, export and manufacture of light weapons as well as the political principles of the European Code of Conduct on Conventional Arms Exports.’ Ukraine went on to assure the 2005 UNPoA conference that : ‘Particular importance is attached to the OSCE Document, where the State-Parties, having agreed on common export criteria such as respect for human rights, avoidance of armed conflict, and compliance with international agreements, established a detailed set of principles.’ 45

Prior to this, Ukrainian weapon exports had been used to violate arms embargoes in Angola, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.44 4 Although Ukraine insists its transactions were legal at the point of export, small arms often leak into grey markets or black markets as they move towards their next owner.46 An infamous example of this was a 1999 shipment to Burkina Faso of 3,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 50 machine guns, 25 grenade launchers, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles and associated ammunition. The weapons were then transferred to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group in Sierra Leone. In the absence of special dispensation for the original transfer, both Ukraine and Burkina Faso were in breach of the ECOWAS moratorium on small arms purchases in West Africa.47 Of the six African states declared by Ukraine to be recipients of its small arms exports in the years 2004-07, three countries — Libya, Chad and Kenya — were destinations of international concern.48

Arms Brokering

Arms brokering is defined as any action by a business or person of Ukraine to assist international transfers of goods designated for military purpose, including financing, transporting or expediting shipments, irrespective of the origin of the goods, or the territory on which any such activity is conducted.49 50

Ukraine law also provides for registration of brokers, licensing of individual deals and extra-territorial controls. It requires that national agents have a licence when operating from abroad, even if the weapons they broker are transferred without crossing national territory. Brokers are also obliged to refrain from brokering activities if there is a ‘risk that the transferred weapons will be used for purposes, or by end-users, different from those stated in the contract.’ 50 51 22 27 52

Officially, only the state-owned agency Ukrspetseksport is now authorised to arrange arms sales to foreign clients. Despite this, independent reports suggest that a number of brokers with high-level connections still deal in Ukrainian small arms, both within the country and abroad.53

Smuggling and Trafficking

In a 1999 survey, Ukraine told the United Nations that the quantity of small arms and ammunition illicitly manufactured within its borders, smuggled in or out, or found to have been illegally imported in the past, all amounted to ‘none.’ 6 A subsequent, contrasting report recalls a Ukrainian parliamentary commission finding that in the years 1992-96, military stocks worth US$32 billion went missing, and were sold abroad (see Diversion of State Stocks). The same researcher suggested that 80 per cent of the Ukrainian arms trade could be conducted within its ‘shadow economy,’ estimated to represent half the nation’s GDP in the post-Soviet era.54

The Trans-Dniester region, a Moldovan separatist state which borders Ukraine, is seen as a primary source of gun running to Europe, Africa and Asia. In the Ukrainian Black Sea ports of Illichevsk and Odessa, arms dealers are reported to fabricate Moldovan export documents for weapons sourced from Trans-Dniester, where illicit arms sales have become ‘the mainstay of the economy.’ 55 56

Millionaire Israeli gun runner and Odessa native Leonid Minin is known to have chartered British and Russian aircraft to fly small arms from Ukraine to war zones in West Africa. In 2001, the UN documented Minin’s delivery of 113 tonnes (five million rounds) of assault rifle ammunition from Ukraine to Liberia via Côte d’Ivoire.57 58 In 1999, it was Minin who used a forged end-user certificate to ship 68 tonnes of weapons, including 3,000 assault rifles and a million rounds of ammunition, from Ukraine to Burkina Faso, then on to Liberia and Sierra Leone. These deliveries violated at least two UN arms embargoes.59 60 57

Also in 1999, Moldovan customs officials confiscated a Ukrainian aircraft and its cargo of 5,000 undeclared Hungarian-made pistols. The handguns were purportedly on their way to Yemen, but authorities feared their diversion to war-torn Yugoslavia.61 62

Stockpile Surplus and Destruction

In 2004, 1.5 million tonnes of Ukraine’s 2.5 million tonnes of explosives and ammunition were officially categorised as surplus for disposal. Some had been kept since the First and Second World Wars, and 60 per cent was exposed in open-air, unstable conditions. The Ministry of Defence estimated that only three per cent of 184 state storage facilities were equipped with technical protection.63 64

In 2005, Ukraine began a surplus weapon destruction project labelled ‘the largest single demilitarisation effort in the world.’ Supported by NATO, the US, UK, Germany, Norway and Canada, it aims to eliminate 133,000 tonnes of surplus munitions and 1.5 million small arms over 12 years.65 66 67 This follows the reported destruction of 700,000 military firearms in the 1990s.68

According to commentators, Ukraine has the capacity to destroy 20-25,000 tonnes of ammunition and tens of thousands of small arms per year. At that rate, destroying the current surplus could take half a century. To complete the task within a decade, at least 150,000 tonnes of surplus would have to be destroyed each year 69 Although in its first three years the programme should have destroyed 400 000 small arms, as of March 2008 the total was 132,000, two-thirds short of the target.70 This was due to Ukrainian reluctance to destroy Kalashnikov assault rifles which could be sold to foreign customers.71

Diversion of State Stocks

Ukraine’s huge, often unguarded weapon armouries and ammunition magazines have been easy targets for theft. In 1992, Ukraine’s military stocks were valued at US$89 billion. By 1998, arms worth US$32 billion (by another estimate, US$57 billion) had been stolen, mainly to be sold abroad. Between 1992 and 2002; the period in which Ukrainian officials were implicated in arms transfers to West Africa, no small arms inventory was taken.72 73

International Agreements

As a Soviet Socialist Republic, Ukraine was a member of the United Nations from 1945, then became an independent UN member state in 1991. A signatory to the UN small arms Programme of Action (UNPoA)26 in 2001, Ukraine presented national reports to this process in 2003, 2004 and 2005.21 74 45 A participating state in the Wassenaar Arrangement,75 Ukraine has yet to sign or ratify the UN Firearms Protocol.76

Ukraine has joined bilateral and multilateral transnational crime control arrangements with Poland, Russia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova, the United States and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). These include measures to curb arms trafficking and smuggling.77

International Assistance

Ukraine has received international assistance for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) from NATO, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Canada.65 67 66

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