Russia: November 29, 2002

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  In Siberia, four soldiers are on trial for stripping valuable parts (radios, night vision equipment) from tanks and selling the items on the black market. Ten tanks in storage were rendered less effective before the soldiers were caught. This has long been a problem, especially since the 1980s and got worse when the Soviet Union collapsed and the troops not only found their low pay not arriving, but also saw funds for barracks maintenance, heating and food not being paid. With tens of thousands of armored vehicles being put into storage or junked, troops saw it as a right to strip the vehicles of salable parts to augment their low, or often non-existent, pay. Part of the new drive to professionalize the armed forces includes cracking down on this sort of theft. 

A particularly gruesome aspect of these thefts is the ability of Chechen rebels to buy Russian military equipment and weapons plundered from these depots. The government is particularly upset at Chechen rebels using stolen Russian portable surface to air missiles to shoot down Russian helicopters in Chechnya. So a major investigation is underway to find out who is stealing the missiles. The missiles come from the thousands of missiles left in warehouses after the Soviet Union disappeared. Soldiers will steal and sell these missiles, and anything else of value in these military storage facilities. Normally, there's not much of a market for anti-aircraft missiles. In fact, it pretty obvious that the most likely use of these missiles is by terrorists or Chechen rebels for use against Russian aircraft. 

The Chechens pull this off because many of the major criminal gangs in Russia are run by Chechens. A favorite business for these gangs is dealing in stolen goods and weapons. A soldier looking to sell some pilfered military gear would likely get the best price from a Chechen gangster specializing in such trade. All the Chechen mobsters had to do is let a greedy, and amoral, Russian soldier know that there would be a large price paid for the "Ilga" (SA-16 or SA-18) missile. This apparently worked, for the Chechens not only have at least a few dozen of the missiles, but the missiles have been modified to disable the safety device that prevents the warhead from detonating when hitting a Russian aircraft (that is using it's IFF beacon.) This investigative effort is long overdue and is a large undertaking, as these arms depots are all over Russia, and in countries that were previously part of the Soviet Union.

 

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