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Are weapons sent to Ukraine ending up in the hands of drug cartels?

A mural depicts an image known as "Saint Javelina"- Virgin Mary cradling a US-made FGM-148 anti-tank weapon Javelin in Ukraine.
A mural depicts an image known as "Saint Javelina"- Virgin Mary cradling a US-made FGM-148 anti-tank weapon Javelin in Ukraine. Copyright Twitter
Copyright Twitter
By Sophia Khatsenkova
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A Mexican TV report alleged drug cartels and other criminal organisations were illegally buying rocket launchers sent to Ukraine by the West. But is it true?

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A video clip taken from a news segment in Mexico has been widely shared on social media alleging to show a cartel member carrying a weapon destined for Ukraine. 

“In the state of Tamaulipas, an alleged member of the Gulf Cartel was recorded carrying one of the most exclusive and powerful weapons, a 'javelin', which has been used during the invasion of Ukraine with a value of between $20,000 and $60,000,” says the anchor in the clip which has received millions of views as of July. 

This led to hundreds of Twitter users claiming weapons sent by the West have been sold on the black market to Mexican cartels and other criminal organisations around the world. 

"It turns out that the US military weapons that we sent to *Ukraine*, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and missile launchers, are ending up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels south of our border. This is an embarrassment," tweeted Vivek Ramaswamy, a candidate in the US 2024 Republican Party presidential primaries. 

The Cube took a closer look at this video and found there are multiple misleading elements in these claims.

What did the Mexican news report say?

Since the start of Russia's invasion, NATO countries and the US have supplied billions of euros worth of weapons to support Ukraine. 

But concerns have been raised about whether these weapons could end up in the wrong hands. 

These fears have bolstered the Kremlin's disinformation narrative against providing arms to Kyiv.

However, the Mexican TV segment has actually been mistranslated and the anchor only mentions Ukraine once during the report and never says the weapon seen in the video was smuggled from there.

What type of weapon is the alleged cartel member carrying?

Euronews reached out to Raytheon Technologies, the company that manufactures the Javelin and they said via a written statement: "The video does not show a Javelin, which is a different size and shape."

According to arms experts, the weapon in the video is an AT4 rocket launcher manufactured in Sweden. 

It is much smaller than the Javelin and less expensive – approximately 1,500 euros compared to 175,000 euros for a Javelin.

The AT4 is widely used by Latin American militaries, including Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia and is "especially prized on the black market," according to a Small Arms Survey report. 

Both the US and Sweden have confirmed they sent AT4s to Ukraine since the start of the war. However, there is no evidence the weapon seen in the clip comes from a cache destined for Kyiv. 

Could a rocket launcher from Ukraine end up in the hands of a drug cartel?

Is there a possibility that weapons meant for Ukraine are being illegally sold to criminal organisations? According to multiple illegal arms trade experts, it is highly unlikely. 

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"It doesn't make sense from a perspective of how those markets are run in Mexico," explained Falko Ernst, a Senior Analyst for Mexico at the International Crisis Group.

"From a logistical point of view, it really doesn't make sense to ship them over to Ukraine. It would increase logistical costs, and drive up the price. Even in terms of strategic necessity, these groups rely on small firearms to do their fighting. There aren't any incentives to do that from the perspective of traffickers and Mexican criminal groups," he told Euronews. 

Moreover, there hasn't been any credible evidence of the trafficking of arms out of Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion in 2022, according to Nils Duquet, the director of the Flemish Peace Institute. 

"Of course, this is an armed conflict and weapons do disappear... But we know that arms trafficking is generally a regional phenomenon. So if there is trafficking outside of Ukraine, it would actually pop up first in neighbouring countries," Duquet told Euronews.

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