After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many Soviet military personnel found themselves without a paycheque. They had no money for their
families, and had no prospects of employment. What they did have, however, was access to a vast stockpile of weapons, ammunition and military
equipment. So they started selling it. After a while, the sale of military equipment was even sanctioned by former Soviet officials. It was a way of
making money for the crippled state of Russia and CIS states.
So, we know why they began to do this. But how did they do this? After all, international arms trades are highly regulated... at least the officials
I want to introduce you to my favourite make of plane - the Ilyushin IL-76 AKA Candid. The IL-76 is a massive cargo plane, known for its in-flight
movies - the glass cabin providing a fantastic view of ground and air.
The thing about the Ilyushins, is that they have a lot of extra storage space, spaces which don't even show up on the plane's blueprints. These
aren't just small compartments. We're talking like 10 extra tonnes. So, just say that Amnesty International wants to deliver some humanitarian aid
to, say, Uganda. They don't actually own their own planes, so they outsource the job to some cargo flight company. They find that there are several
of these cargo companies willing to do the work for next to nothing, so of course they choose these companies, which usually happen to be based in
former Soviet states. Why do they work so cheaply? Well...
These planes are crewed by ex-Soviet air force personnel. They have years of experience, and are damn good at flying in and out of dangerous places.
They are so nonchalant - всe хорошо! I was terrified as we came in for a landing, the plane pulled up at literally the last second, and the
crew just laughed at my fear. They can land in all kinds of conditions, and they have to, because getting shot at is a regular occurrence. They can
corkscrew down or basically nose-dive in, which makes them harder to hit with surface to air missiles.
I'd love to tell the story properly, but for the sake of brevity, I'll just mention it briefly - in 1996, Starikov's Candid crashed in Belgrade en
route to Libya. Everyone died. The crash site was quickly cordoned off by secret police, but they didn't hide it as well as they thought. Bits and
pieces belonging to fighter jets were found, and it was said that Gaddafi would miss out on his delivery. Sanctions be damned, these crews fly
At Entebbe airport, our IL-76 crew greeted the customs officials like old friends. Our cargo was ostensibly humanitarian aid, tents and blankets and
things. But we also had some extra tonnes, and these crews don't like to waste space! Now, I won't say too much detail. But there are a lot of
Kalashnikovs in Africa, and they have to come from somewhere! Customs officials in many countries don't care. End user certificates are forged all
the time. People know about this, and they don't give a sh*t. The charities who commission these crews don't give a sh*t. Customs officers don't
give a sh*t. This is how the crews make their money, and how they're willing to work for so cheap. The real money lies in this "grey cargo".
Sometimes, international organisations like Interpol or the UN make a lip-service attempt to curb this activity. Viktor Bout, a pilot, was arrested in
Thailand in 2008 for allegedly trying to sell arms to the Colombian rebel group FARC. Many people were angry about his arrest and extradition to the
US, with good reason. You see, most of the time, the pilots don't even know what cargo they're actually carrying. In this business, you don't ask
questions. One time, I think it was a Candid (but it might've been an Antonov, can't remember) was shot at, and would've caused the plane to crash
and burn, but the bullet happened to hit something very solid, which deflected it. This plane was carrying tanks. The bullet hit one of the tanks, and
this is how everyone survived.
A lot of people in the West are totally unaware of this industry. They donate some money to some charity, and just kinda assume that the money will
end up helping some poor people in some African country. It's not just charities which facilitate this massive black market industry - the United
Nations is a big one. And they keep allowing it to happen. It's not just in Africa, the Middle East is also a big market. So is South America.
Western governments are not directly funding terrorist groups. But they allow it, by allowing the UN and various charities to keep on outsourcing
flights to companies based in countries like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan etc, because they're cheap (and now we know why they're so cheap).
These people happily sell arms and equipment to groups like Al-Shabaab, the Taliban, Islamic State, etc. The industry big-wigs based in Baku and such
places see war as a golden opportunity. They do not care about selling guns to terrorists. This is how they make money. I've been out of the loop for
a few years now, but Sharjah in the UAE was (possibly still is) a major hub for black market arms dealers. Interpol knows this. The UN knows this. Yet
this industry is still thriving. IL-76s and Antonovs crash all the time, and you'll never hear about it. Planes disappear and reappear, sometimes
they are in two places at once! The key word is smokescreen.
Now, as the former Soviet pilots grow older and/or die in horrible crashes, there is a shortage of pilots skilled enough to make these flights. This
is really the only major problem the industry faces. A pilot might be able to fly a Boeing 747 just fine, but that doesn't mean he'll be able to
successfully maneuver into Mogadishu while avoiding being shot at. It takes real skill.
So now you know how these terrorist groups keep getting their weapons. If you've ever donated money to, say, Amnesty International, sorry, but
you've probably helped facilitate terrorists. I think probably the best way to help stop this is to spread awareness - like I said, many people have
no idea that all this is going on!
Otherwise, war will only continue. Stricter regulations need to be placed upon aid organisations and UN contractors. I apologise for the length of
this post, but it really is a huge issue with many more factors that I haven't even gone into here for the sake of brevity. It's not a black market,
it's a black industry. And the Islamic State is a prime customer. Oh, and it's not just weapons. Drugs too. Lots and lots of drugs.
So you see, arms trades hitch rides on the backs of UN and charity missions. This is not a theory, this is not a conspiracy. This is reality. This is
what is actually happening.
For those of you who have managed to read through my novel of a post, if you have any questions, I am sure I will be able to answer. I am fairly well
acquainted with this trade, and think it is very important that something is done, in order to at least hinder the violence. I have huge respect for
these pilots and aircrews because they are brave and good men, but not so much their bosses.