The global impact of transnational crime has risen to unprecedented levels. Criminal groups have appropriated new technologies, adapted horizontal network structures that are difficult to trace and stop, and diversified their activities.
The result has been an unparalleled rise in international crime. As many as fifty-two activities fall under the umbrella of transnational crime, from arms smuggling to human trafficking to environmental crime. These crimes undermine states’ abilities to provide citizens with basic services, fuel violent conflicts, and subject people to intolerable suffering. (CFR) The Russian government is known to benefit from ties to the transnational weapons market. In this paper we will discuss the Russian approach to the weapons market throughout the Greater Caspian region.
After September 11, 2001 it became more difficult to express precisely what was meant by the term “weapon”. That event forced a reexamination of the traditional definition of weapons and, with it, a new concept of what constitutes a weapon. Illegal commerce in weapons, by whatever definition, is widespread throughout Eastern Europe and the former USSR. (Bowers) The conventional illegal arms trade across the Greater Caspian is one of the most significant in the world. The airports of the Caucasus are also among the most vulnerable in the world and may, at some future date, constitute an equally threatening factor in this new environment. There is one basic fact about weapons traffic in this region: the Caspian has always been armed and therefore was always destined to be a hub of concern, post-Communism, for the international weapons trade market. Therefore, the efforts of the greater Caspian states to remedy this problem will always be paramount to the security of the global community.
Illicit nuclear materials have been interdicted on numerous occasions in Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. If seizures are an accurate indication, most material on the nuclear black market has been of FSU or Eastern European origin. The region’s porous borders, government instability, and endemic corruption provide fertile ground for trafficking of WMD materials. This may be partly due to the heavy drug trafficking across the region, which provides a smuggling infrastructure useful for other illicit items. (NTI) Central Asia’s extensive smuggling network arises from the two major smuggling paths that pass from Afghanistan through Eurasia to Western Europe – known as the “Northern route” and the “Balkan route.” (NTI) Though an explicit connection between the drug trade and WMD material trafficking has not been made explicitly apparent by academia, two of the major consequences of this trade are the criminalization of state structures and the normalization of smuggling practices.
The facilitation of freer trade of goods across borders and the creation of a customs union and common economic space between Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia have also provided opportunities for criminal trafficking activities. The Deputy Head of Russia’s border service, Yevgeny Inchin, has asserted that 43 percent of smuggled goods in Russia first enter through Kazakhstan. Border post removals between Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia have allowed smuggled and pirated goods flowing into Kazakhstan from China to disperse more easily throughout Europe via Russia. (NTI) The main WMD material trafficking routes in the region flow in three main ways: north-south from Russia through the Caucasus toward Iran; east-west from Central Asia through the Caucasus and out through Turkey after crossing the Black Sea; and west-east entering the Caucasus from Turkey and continuing on to Central Asia. Trafficking takes place in all of the countries of the Caspian region, but the critical points along the primary trafficking routes are Tajikistan, Turkmenistan (particularly Caspian ports), and Georgia. (NTI)
Russia has well-established and extensive strategic trade control legislation and regulation: Russian implementation of UNSCR 1540 ranks ‘above average’ in the NTI’s Nuclear Materials Security Index. However, there are also ongoing implementation challenges stemming from a weak export control culture and underdeveloped internal compliance programs. While most states have a single body to license the export of both military and dual-use goods, Russia’s export control system consists of two agencies: the Federal Service for Technical and Export Control (FSTEC) licenses the export of dual-use items, and the Federal Service on Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) authorizes transfers of other defense items. Russia’s FSTEC maintains six lists of dual-use items to be regulated. (NTI)
Several states in the greater Caspian region, including Kazakhstan, which also ranks ‘above average’ in implementation of UNSCR 1540, created control lists modeled on the lists of the European Union and Russia. Other states, such as Georgia, adopted the established control lists of multilateral export control regimes such as the Nuclear Supplier Group. Under the provisions of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, member states should require IAEA Additional Protocol safeguards agreements as a condition for nuclear supply. In 2012, Georgia and Armenia ratified the 2005 Amended CPPNM and passed nuclear security and safety-related regulations, enabling them to strengthen the physical protection of radioactive materials. (NTI) Azerbaijan reinforced its system to prevent illicit trafficking of nuclear materials by creating a national registry of all radioactive sources. Kazakhstan also made significant progress in physical security by upgrading protection at the former nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk, converting a research reactor to use of LEU fuels and relocating the equivalent of several weapons’ worth of spent nuclear fuel to a more secure facility.
So there are contradictory forces in play on this issue across the Caspian region: on the one hand, all states are actively trying to improve regulations and security protocols to prevent the illicit trafficking of weapons and, especially, nuclear materials; on the other hand, weapons and materials are still being found on the black market and the dark net. Are there opportunities for the global community, the United States in particular, to intervene or ‘positively pressure’ said states to greater vigilance? According to Daniel Cohen the U.S. government should lead the global community in doing the following:
• Reexamine the “reset” policy with Russia on Middle East issues. The U.S., in cooperation with Western European allies and the Arab League, should pressure Moscow to support U.N. Security Council sanctions on Damascus and Tehran. The President should suspend the reset policy and direct the National Security Council to form a task force to conduct a bottom-up reassessment of U.S. policy toward Russia in view of Moscow’s counter-policies toward Iran and Syria.
• Pressure Middle Eastern states to stop their nationals from funding and training terrorists. The U.S. needs to apply significant pressure to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Middle Eastern states, whose nationals are funding and training insurgents in the North Caucasus, bankrupt the North Caucasian insurgency, and prevent its integration into the worldwide Islamic extremist movement.
• Intervene with the governments of Turkey and Italy to boost support of the Nabucco gas pipeline and gas interconnectors to Greece and Italy. Italy is a main stakeholder in the South Stream pipeline project. The U.S. should seek to postpone the deal on South Stream between Gazprom and Turkey’s state-owned Botash. The prohibitively costly and economically ineffective deal will only increase EU and Turkish energy dependency on Russia and deny revenues to the pro-American states of the Southern Caucasus.
The global impact of transnational crime has risen to unprecedented levels. The direction of Russia’s armament policy and regulation protocols will significantly affect not only Russia and its deeply rooted bilateral relations with countries in the Caspian region, but will also significantly engage U.S. interests and policies from Tangier to Tehran. Whether that engagement is positive or negative on the illicit transnational weapons market is something still remains to be seen. Hopefully, the individual geopolitical interests of all the parties involved will not conflict so stridently as to make the only true winners those who profit from death and destruction.