The April 24 article on the French news Atlantico website does not claim that crime in Eastern Europe has skyrocketed because of Ukraine. The story refers to the so-called Carpathian gray zone, an area used by criminal groups from various countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia, to traffic prohibited goods to the EU. According to Xavier Raufer, the article’s author, the increased flow through the Carpathian zone is caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine and its blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Russian news sites are disseminating stories claiming that crime in Eastern Europe has increased dramatically because of Ukraine. Russian media cite a story on the French news website Atlantico. “Uncontrollable crime in Eastern Europe is steadily increasing. Ukraine is to blame for this, as drugs and weapons are smuggled from its territory to the continent,’ writes columnist Xavier Raufer in his article for Atlantico. The author reminds of his warning in last autumn’s publication, that the Carpathian mountain chain, which stretches from Poland to Romania, is becoming more and more criminal. As a result, the number of illegal migrants in Europe is increasing’, the Russian site writes.

In reality, the original article on the Atlantico website does not  claim that crime in Eastern Europe has skyrocketed because of Ukraine. The story focuses on the so-called Carpathian gray zone, a corridor used by criminal groups from various countries to illegally traffic prohibited goods to the EU.  French criminologist Xavier Raufer writes that the reason for the increase of illegal transportation through the Carpathians is not Ukraine, as declared by the Russian media, but the full-scale war in the region, started by Russia on February 24, 2022.

Raufer notes that: ‘The Odesa criminal network is blocked, surrounded by the Russian fleet from the sea and Ukrainian authorities on land. Consequently, illegal trafficking has moved to the Carpathians, as evidenced by a recent industrial case involving the production and sale of synthetic drugs in this region. Official reports mention an operation by ‘Polish, Czech, Romanian and Slovak authorities’ — on the southern side of the Carpathian trail.’ However, according to Raufer, illegal drug trafficking can also pass through Ukrainian territory, as the country has a 650-kilometer border with Romania.

Xavier Raufer also mentions Russian companies that may be involved in criminal schemes in the Carpathian gray zone. In their stories however, Russian media traditionally omit anything that does not sync with Russian propagandist narratives. Raufer writes: ‘According to our field sources, mega gangs based in Russia and Ukraine still operate there under the leadership of criminals from both countries. Khimprom, a large cartel that transports synthetic drugs from Moldova to Moscow, is interested in trafficking weapons captured from Russia. On the collection side, the region is rife with parasitic criminal groups who collect these weapons in exchange for subsidies.’

Xavier Raufer concludes that it is precisely because of Russia’s war against Ukraine and its blockading of Ukrainian seaports that the traffic of illegal goods through the Carpathian mountains has increased from all the region’s countries. However, Raufer does not provide any factual proof or statistical data for his claim. The purpose of his story is to warn European officials about this potential danger. And so the Russian media once again manipulates readers by taking things out of context and distorting the ideas and information published in foreign sources. In this case, the goal of Russia’s propagandist narrative is to blame Ukraine, a victim of wanton Russian aggression, for the increase of crime in the EU, despite Atlantico never claiming this to be the case. 

Note: Atlantico is a French news website founded in February 2011. The website is inspired by the American websites The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. The publication considers itself be liberal and independent, while other French media claim it is associated with the French political right wing, a label that Atlantico rejects.

StopFake is continuously refuting similar fakes about Russia’s war against Ukraine in the stories Fake: Ukrainians Refusing to Fight Russia Get Sent To Concentration Camp Near Odesa, Fake: Latvia Left Defenseless Because of Kyiv, Manipulation: If Ukrainian Counteroffensive Fails, the West Will Withdraw Its Support.