“Unbelievable but true” data show UK firms equipping Russia’s war machine

“Unbelievable but true” data show UK firms equipping Russia’s war machine
There but for the grace of British industry go I. / Russian defence ministry
By bne IntelliNews February 23, 2024

It may be difficult to believe, but it’s almost certainly true: UK firms are playing an important role in equipping Russia’s war machine.

That’s the conclusion of Sky News data analysis released on February 21, which found that British companies are exporting hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment and machinery to former Soviet satellite states including Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Georgia that is then re-exported to Russia, undermining the official UK sanctions regime applied to the Kremlin.

Drone equipment and heavy machinery are among the surging shipments with no other logical end-destination but Russia.

Exports to the small Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan—exposed last September for shipping onwards to Russia Chinese ball bearings that play a key role in the production of tanks—have risen at the breakneck speed of 1,100% since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exactly two years ago, while the growth rate in shipped British goods to Armenia is not far behind.

Among the consignments are large volumes of sensitive, "dual-use" goods that can be sold to civilian manufacturers, prior to being redirected and repurposed for use in making weaponry and equipment for the Russian armed forces.

The Sky analysis also showed that by far and away the biggest category of British goods being dispatched to the four Central Asian and South Caucasus nations assessed was "parts of aeroplanes, helicopters or unmanned aircraft".

British companies have reportedly exported £6m worth of these goods to the four nations, well above what they historically have tended to export to them. Other items sent are said to include data processing machines, aeronautic navigation equipment and radio navigation aids. So it appears that while entities such as the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) come up with new esoteric “smart sanctions” with which to hit Russia—bne IntelliNews reported earlier this month how turbine lubricants and their additives used in maintaining weapons were the latest target—UK sanctions enforcers are perhaps not quite keeping their end of the bargain in addressing sanctions-dodging that is staring them in the face.

According to Tom Keatinge of British defence and security think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), as cited by Sky: "It's absolutely a red flag if you're producing that kind of equipment [that we see in the analysis]... and you've got this big spike in exports to Kyrgyzstan.

"You've surely got to stop and ask yourself: why is that? Am I indirectly resourcing the Russian military? And clearly you don't want to be doing that. And indeed, in doing that, you're probably in breach of sanctions.

"The tragedy is that whenever the Ukrainians dissect a drone, or a cruise missile or communications equipment that they get their hands on, there are components in those bits of equipment that come from the EU, that come from the UK and come from the US, and have been manufactured since February 2022.

"So these are fresh exports, these are not legacy exports."

Robin Brooks, former chief economist of financial body the Institute of International Finance (IIF), has in the past year increasingly raised the alarm about rocketing exports to ex-Soviet nations that appear bound for Russia. He has also pointed the finger at Germany and Poland as other countries with many exporters indirectly sending large quantities of hardware to Russia.

"They're clearly getting an order from somewhere that is a Russian satellite that happens to be domiciled in one of these Central Asian countries," he said in response to the new analysis.

"What happens then? Maybe there's plausible deniability, maybe they know... all we know for sure is that the rise in export volumes that is happening is completely insane, and is inconsistent with any underlying data in these countries.

"So the only reasonable explanation is: Russia.

"From the Western European and especially the EU side, I would say, this has been going on for a while. It is at this point widely known in Brussels, and I think there is a key question as to why nothing is being done at a central EU level to stop this?"