Staunton, July 29 – Russia’s war in Ukraine is metasticizing in Russia itself, with ever more people bringing ever more heavy weaponry back from the front into Russia’s regions, a development that threatens to destabilize the situation there further despite the success the interior ministry says it is having against this trend.
Today’s “Novaya gazeta” reports that Andrey Larionov, a senior police official in Rostov oblast, says that over the first half of 2015, his officers have become more successful in solving crimes having to do with illegal weapons; but his claims of success are belied by his statement the weapons being confiscated now are much more serious than those they dealt with earlier.
If in the past, the Rostov police had to deal mostly with the illegal possession or use of hunting rifles, the Moscow newspaper reports Larionov as saying, now the militia in his region which borders Ukraine have to deal with automatic weapons and grenade launchers (novayagazeta.ru/politics/69367.html).
The Russian policeman played down the notion that the influx of arms was directly connected with the war in Ukraine: “It is not a fact that this is connected with the nearness of war,” he said; but “that too is also possible. Earlier there also was another war [a reference to Russia’s campaigns in Chechnya] but there were no such statistics” then.
According to official statistics, the paper continues, since January 1, the authorities have blocked “more than 60 attempts” to illegally bring arms, ammunition and explosives across the border. “Five times,” “Novaya gazeta” says, “Russian border guards opened fire in order to block the violators of the border.”
A better indication of the size of this problem, however, is suggested by the fact that “not a single force agency” on the Russian side is prepared to give even an “approximate” number of how many guns and explosive have arrived in Rostov or gone on from there deeper into the Russian Federation.
The Moscow paper says that some Rostov police told its journalists at the end of last year that Rostov had “always” been a transit hub for such flows, both from the south in the case of the Chechen and Georgian wars and from the West in the case of Yugoslavia and Transdniestria. The police added that returning veterans often take weapons on into other parts of Russia.
The same thing is happening now with “Russian volunteers” who are returning home from fighting in the Donbas. They are frequently seen in Rostov train stations and are easily identifiable because they are still in combat fatigues. The authorities have set up metal detectors to try to ensure they aren’t carrying weapons, but clearly that doesn’t always work.
A major reason is this, the paper says. While individuals are scanned before entering the station, their baggage is now. Consequently, if they put their weapons in their suitcases or trunks, the authorities won’t discover them. And the police do not always check private cars in which some returning “volunteers” are travelling both to Rostov and from there onwards.
But there is an even bigger problem. The militias of the Donetsk and Luhansk “peoples republics” control 550 of the 600 kilometers of border between Russia’s Rostov oblast and Ukraine. (Ukrainian border guards control only 50 kilometers.) And the militias are notoriously slack in checking such things.
“Until recently,” the paper says, “the entire Rostov section of the Russian-Ukrainian border was practically open.” In the last few months, however, the Russian border guards have begun to increase their control over it. They “don’t hide the reason: they are doing so to block possible attempts of illegal importation of arms and ammunition.”