A Pembrokeshire dog handler has just returned from the Russian border and has seen firsthand crowds of Ukrainian refugees trying to flee and playing a part in stopping the illegal smuggling of money and tobacco into and out of Russia.
BWY Canine’s Stuart Phillips was hired to train 40 Customs Dog Handlers and their dogs on the Russian-Latvian border.
He has spent the last few days teaching Latvian handlers new techniques and the latest developments in tracker dog training.
After lessons, Stuart worked on the Russian-Latvian border, where customs dogs sniff out illegal tobacco, cash, drugs and guns.
“Because of the situation in Ukraine, customs are cracking down on all countries that border Russia,” Stuart said.
“Especially the dogs I’ve worked with are looking for tobacco. There is a lot of tobacco trying to be smuggled out of Russia and Belarus and a huge income from that tobacco.
“There’s also a lot of traffic trying to move money. We are talking about huge sums, hundreds of thousands of euros. It’s often money that’s linked to crime and the illicit tobacco trade.”
Stuart said the money was often used to sell the illicit tobacco elsewhere in Europe and then smuggle it back to Russia.
“What the dogs do is very important,” he said.
“We have a massive illicit tobacco problem in the UK but the amounts that are being attempted to be smuggled across the country [Russia- Latvia] limits are off scale.”
At the border checkpoints, Stuart saw queues of Ukrainian refugees trying to cross the border into Latvia.
“Latvians are very sympathetic to Ukrainians and have done everything to help them,” Stuart said. “But they have to make sure that people are who they say they are, that they are Ukrainians.
Stuart was seconded to Latvia by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who are now looking into the possibility of offering more training in other European countries.
“The feedback from the dog trainers and the OECD colleagues has been great,” said Stuart. “They said it was of great use.”