New reports reveal Moldovan black market of nuclear materials

A report from earlier this month published by the Associated Press focused on the market for nuclear materials in Moldova. The report, compiled by investigators working in conjunction with Moldovan law enforcement agencies and the FBI, details a black market of nuclear materials available in Moldova. As has been documented in some detail here and in the wider media, Moldova is one of the poorest countries in the Former Soviet Union and was the home of no small portion of Soviet nuclear materials prior to the country’s dissolution in the early 1990s. Since that time poor security and government apparatuses have made Moldova a relatively attractive destination for international organized crime organizations.

A follow-up report published by The Atlantic delves further into the market of nuclear materials in Moldova. The authors levy a portion of the blame against the former Soviet government for less-than-punctilious control requirements on nuclear materials. Given the rather sudden and chaotic breakdown of the Soviet Union, Russian governmental and military organizations were unable to reliably track the entirety of the Soviet Union’s military arsenal. In February of this year an undercover FBI operative posing as a representative of ISIL arrested a smuggler who attempted to sell him cesium 137, a material he claimed would be potent enough to “contaminate several city blocks.”

The likelihood of a smuggler obtaining a completed nuclear warhead is believed to be slim-to-none as Russia has invested billions in modernized “command and control” infrastructure. However, recent reports suggest that the odds of an organized crime organization obtaining and transferring nuclear materials to a radical group such as ISIL have increased.

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News Briefs:

  • An Afghan military offensive has chased Taliban fighters close to its border with Turkmenistan, Radio Free Europe reports. The latest offensive is made up primarily of fighters led by Afghan Vice President Rashid Dostum and is reported to have been successful in driving Taliban fighters from Afghan population centers and seizing enemy weaponry and equipment.  EurasiaNet reports that some Taliban fighters have fled to an island which straddles the Afghan-Taliban border, and have entrenched themselves there. According to a spokesman for Dostum, Afghan fighters are preparing either to accept the surrender of remaining Taliban fighters or to begin a new assault on the island. Turkmen officials reported that they have ordered their troops to “get ready” for an offensive but did not offer a concrete plan to resist Taliban attempts to enter Turkmen territory. A Turkmen military spokesman added, nonetheless, that the Taliban is an enemy to “the entire region” and that any incursion into Turkmen territory would be taken seriously.
  • Iranian Deputy Energy Minister Houshang Falahatian announced that his country will remain committed to renewable energy despite a growing amount of interest and assertiveness in within both the international investment committee and the Iranian energy community. Falahatian added that the Iranian government has prioritized research and renewed investment into power storage technology, and is expected to inaugurate its first-ever hydroelectric power plant in September 2016. Other areas of interest to Iran’s energy ministry are in geothermal and wind energy. Both of these areas have been earmarked for greater investment in the coming years. In wind energy alone, for instance, Falahatian indicated that the country must increase its total wind power output to 40,000 MW from the existing 14,000 generated by existing wind farms.
  • Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk announced that the Ukrainian financial sector has “stabilized” in the past year. In a communiqué released at the opening ceremony of a Ukrainian-German economic forum in Berlin earlier this week, the somewhat controversial prime minister indicated that the current administration has been working “actively” to bolster its financial sector and surmount difficulties provoked by the precarious security situation in eastern Ukraine and a wider economic and currency crisis. In order to support his announcement, Yatseniuk pointed to two recent large-scale investments in the Ukrainian.
  • Dmitry Sablin, a member of the Russian parliament’s Russian Federation Council Defense revealed that Russian lawmakers have visited Damascus and that the city is now demonstrably safer than before Russia began its intervention in the country. The delegation of Russian congressmen arrived early Friday in Damascus and is expected to spend the next few days visiting the city. Sablin, who last visited the city in May, claimed that Syrian citizens now feel safer, happier and more confident due to Russia’s support for the al-Assad regime.
  • The economy of Uzbekistan has grown by 8 percent during the last nine months vis-à-vis the same period of time in 2014. According to Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the surge in growth owes itself to increased industrial and agricultural production, which have raised by 7.3 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively. Despite a global downturn in commodity prices, Uzbekistan has continued to export at a high volume, involving some 830 companies in its export apparatus in 2015.
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