Russia says West's Ukraine weapons are going onto the black market

LONDON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday that the West's supplies of advanced weapons to Ukraine were finding their way onto the black market and then into the hands of extremist and criminal groups in the Middle East, central Africa and Asia.

Since Russia launched its war with Ukraine on Feb. 24, the biggest land invasion in Europe since World War Two, Western powers have sent Ukraine an array of weapons in an attempt to help forces fighting Russian troops.

Maria Zakharova, Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman, said that NATO members had in total sent at least 700 artillery systems, 80,000 missile systems, 800,000 artillery shells and 90 million rounds of ammunition.

"A considerable part of these weapons have already entered, or will soon enter, the black market," Zakharova told reporters in Moscow. "Now the world community is facing this."

She did not say what evidence her assertion was based on.

"The NATO military cargos are ending up in the hands of terrorists, extremists and criminal groups in the Middle East, central Africa and southeast Asia," Zakharova added.

Russia has long warned that weapons destined for Ukraine could find their way into the hands of criminals, though without providing details of where the weapons might be ending up.

Western leaders say they want to help Ukraine defeat Russia, though U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to prevent a direct NATO-Russia confrontation. Ukraine is asking for more weapons from the United States and its allies.

Some security officials, though, are concerned.

The head of Interpol, Jürgen Stock, said in June that some of the advanced weapons sent to Ukraine would end up in the hands of organised crime groups.

Europol said in July that it was working closely with Ukraine to mitigate the threat of arms trafficking. "A potential threat observed in war zones in the past is that firearms can fall into the wrong hands," it said at the time.

"Regarding the war in Ukraine, Europol has warned that the proliferation of firearms and explosives in Ukraine could lead to an increase in firearms and munitions trafficked into the EU via established smuggling routes or online platforms. This threat might even be higher once the conflict has ended."

Zakharova said the European Union was a party in the conflict in Ukraine because the bloc had supplied a host of advanced weapons to Kyiv.

Reporting by Reuters

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