As Belgrade slept on the night of November 28, 2015, the giant turbofan engines of a Belarusian Ruby Star Ilyushin II-76 cargo plane roared into life, its hull laden with arms destined for faraway conflicts.
Rising from the tarmac of Nikola Tesla airport, the hulking aircraft pierced the Serbian mist to head towards Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
It was one of at least 68 flights that in just 13 months transported weapons and ammunition to Middle Eastern states and Turkey which, in turn, funnelled arms into brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, has found. The flights form just a small part of €1.2 billion in arms deals between the countries since 2012, when parts of the Arab Spring turned into an armed conflict.
Out of the 1.2 billion euros in weapons and ammunition approved for export, about 500 million euros have been delivered, according to UN trade information and national arms export reports.
The frequency and number of cargo flights – BIRN and the OCCRP identified at least 68 in just over one year – reveal a steady flow of weapons from Central and Eastern Europe airports to military bases in the Middle East.
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