After Crimea: Disarmament, Frozen Conflicts, And Illicit Trafficking Through Eastern Europe
This paper examines the principal-agent problem in the case of Russia and breakaway republics in its near abroad, with a specific focus on nuclear smuggling. These spaces have been a haven for nuclear traffickers, posing important challenges for international efforts aimed at stemming proliferation. Given that secessionist regimes in this area owe their existence to Moscow’s military presence, scholars have blamed Russia for nuclear smuggling incidents in frozen conflict areas, arguing that Moscow has never been cooperative on nuclear matters. However, the historical record reveals that Russia does not take the dangers posed by nuclear smuggling lightly, as insurgent groups in the region have repeatedly threatened to use dirty bombs against it. A closer look at both the theory and the empirical evidence around the illicit trade with nuclear materials, drawing on examples of nuclear trafficking through Transnistria, shows that it is the state of lawlessness in these breakaway republics that makes these territories a fertile ground for smuggling networks. As organized crime engulfs these quasi-states, professional traffickers take over smuggling rings from amateurs. This paper shows that the increasing frequency of nuclear smuggling incidents in breakaway republics is better explained by the growing sophistication of trafficking networks rather than by Russia’s involvement in these frozen conflict zones.
Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies
Crimea; Eastern Europe; Disarmament; Conflict Resolution; Illicit Trafficking; Russia; Nuclear War