NATO military alliance members including the UK, France and Germany, are being accused of supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by continuing to supply weapons to the Russian military up until at least 2020, despite an embargo following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. According to data unearthed from the Working Party on Conventional Arms Exports (COARM), a third of the European Union’s member states have exported weapons to Russia in recent years.
The COARM data, first analysed by Investigate Europe, reveals a staggering €346million (£290million) worth of military equipment – including aircraft, vehicles, missiles, rockets, torpedos and bombs – was exported to Russia from at least 10 EU countries between 2015 and 2020.
The report reveals several “loopholes” in an embargo against issuing weapons to Moscow after the 2014 Crimea annexation which were exploited by European countries.
Under the terms of the embargo, existing contracts could be fulfilled provided that they had been agreed to before 2014 – allowing nations to provide Russia’s military with weapons until 2020.
France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Finland, Slovakia and Spain are all implicated in the report, with France singled out as the top exporter of arms to Russia.
Additionally, data from the UK Government’s Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) shows the UK may also have taken advantage of this loophole.
So what has the UK supplied?
According to the ECJU data – which was compiled by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) group – the UK granted 30 licences to export £3.7million worth of goods classes “for military purpose” to Russia between the 2014 embargo and September 2018.
Most of the licences were given in 2014, with additional licences in 2015 and 2016 with the last being in 2018 – according to the data which runs to the end of September 2021.
These included £1.4million to fund military aircraft, helicopter and drone components, as well as a further £1.2million worth of ammunition.
A total of £780,000 was approved for electronic equipment and £312,000 on small arms, while another £26,000 was paid out for equipment and test models and £2,900 on imaging equipment.
Note these figures do not necessarily reflect the actual value of good exported – the ECJU only collects data on the value of goods that companies were given permission to export, regardless of whether these contracts are eventually fulfilled.
Additionally, companies can be awarded ‘dual use’ licences for both military and non-military purposes by the Government, which weren’t halted under the 2014 embargo.
Including dual-purpose licences, a total of 1,129 licences have been granted to Russia since the annexing of Crimea, taking the total combined value to £1.2billion.
On February 24, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he would suspend dual-purpose licences to Russia as part of a package of sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine.
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK has not granted any licences to Russia that would be inconsistent with the sanctions measures imposed in July 2014.
“Following the illegal invasion of Ukraine, we suspended approval of new export licences for dual-use items to Russia with immediate effect.
“The UK takes its export control responsibilities extremely seriously. All licences not consistent with sanctions measures will be revoked and military exports to Russia remain prohibited.”
What about the rest of the EU?
According to the COARM data, France has emerged as the top exporter to Russia since 2014, with 44 percent of European arms to Russia originating there.
In total, the country issued more than 70 licences worth €152million (£128million) from 2014.
According to the Investigate Europe report on the figures, France has given authorisation to export items in the category of “bombs, rockets, torpedoes, missiles, explosive charges” alongside “imaging equipment, aircraft with their components and ‘lighter-than-air vehicles’”.
Furthermore, a report into the statistics by the independent Franch outlet Disclose showed that thermal imaging cameras and infrared sensors were purchased from French shareholder companies Safran and Thales.
This equipment is reported to adorn Russian tanks and fighter jets operating on the Ukrainian frontline in today’s brutal war.
Like the UK, the data shows most French licences were granted directly after the annexation of Crimea and have slowly declined since 2015 under the embargo.
France’s Ministry of the Armed Forces told Investigate Europe the country is committed “to apply very strictly” to the 2014 embargo and that weapons given to Russia since were “a residual flow, resulting from past contracts… and which has gradually died out”.
Germany also tops the list, with the figures showing the nation exported 35 percent of all EU arms to Russia, totalling €121.8million (£102.25million) worth of equipment.
This included icebreaker vessels, rifles and “special protection” vehicles.
German exports were largely granted under ‘dual use’ licences – as such, the exports are not deemed to be in breach of the 2014 sanctions, Investigate Europe said.
In third place, the COARM figures show Italy has sold weapons to Russia totalling €22.5million (£18.8million) with the first contract signed in 2015 authorising up to €25million (£20million) worth of land vehicles parts.
Such vehicles have been seen on the Ukrainian front line by the Italian TV channel La7.
Elsewhere in the data, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Finland, Slovakia and Spain are also implied in arms sales to Russia.