The export of arms to Russia despite the embargo is a disgrace to the whole EU!
So far, four packages of sanctions have been approved at the EU level against Russia in response to the attack on Ukraine. What is less well known, however, is that some of the sanctions were already imposed after Russia’s seizure of Crimea.
An arms embargo on exports to Russia has been in place within the EU since 1 August 2014. The move was a direct response to Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine when it annexed the Crimean peninsula in February 2014, and also when its military entered the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine to support pro-Russian separatists.
“until more than a year ago Vladimir Putin and his army were still good customers of the European arms industry”
Moreover, in July of that year, a Boeing 777 jetliner heading from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia was shot down over the region by a Russian missile. All 298 civilians on board were killed.
The EU’s incomprehensibly lukewarm response
But this does not change the fact that the EU’s response to Russia’s behaviour in 2014 was rather lukewarm. It was only after the attack on Ukraine this year that virtually all of Europe began to condemn Russia. Until recently, the attitude of many Member States towards the EU was markedly different. Although the embargo has been in place for almost eight years, until more than a year ago Vladimir Putin and his army were still good customers of the European arms industry.
Yes, you read that correctly. The aforementioned sanctions from 2014 show how toothless the earlier measures actually were and also how sanctions against Russia should not be done. Recent findings revealed that a third of the Member States of the European Union exported arms to Russia!
France is the biggest sinner
Despite the aforementioned embargo, which began after Russia’s annexation of Crimea back in 2014, EU states sent military material to Russia worth a total of 346 million euros, roughly 8.6 billion Czech crowns. That is a lot of money!
France has supplied most of the military equipment to Russia. As the investigative site Disclose recently reported, between 2015 and 2020, France supplied Russia with state-of-the-art military equipment that allowed Russia to modernize 1,000 tanks, aircraft and attack helicopters. This equipment has found its way into the military equipment that Russia is now using on the Ukrainian front.
The documents revealed show that since 2015, France has issued 76 export licences to Russia for military equipment worth a total of 152 million euros. The main beneficiaries of these contracts were the French aerospace and defence companies Thales and Safran, in which the French state has significant stakes. These were mainly supplies of thermal imaging cameras for tanks and navigation systems and infrared detectors for Russian fighter jets and attack helicopters.
Hollande and Macron continued to arm Russia after the embargo
It was only under pressure from European countries and the United States that French President François Hollande cancelled the planned sale of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia in 2015. Otherwise, however, France has continued to supply military equipment cheerfully.
Successive French governments, led first by President Hollande and then by President Macron, have exploited loopholes in the European embargo. They interpreted it as not being retroactive. All contracts signed before the decision to impose the embargo were thus to remain in force.
Moreover, the equipment was exported with a guarantee. In practice, this meant that French manufacturers undertook to carry out any repairs for several years after delivery, provided that their export licence was not suspended.
Unfortunately, the French government had absolutely no say in how the weapons would be used in the future. Over the years, French-made military equipment has helped Vladimir Putin modernize the Russian armed forces he is now killing in Ukraine.
Other EU countries have also supplied weapons
Unfortunately, the Gallic rooster country was far from the only sinner. As Investigate Europe found, as many as a third of EU member states exported arms to Russia between 2015 and 2020. In addition to France, which accounted for 44% of military equipment exports to Russia, Germany, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Slovakia, Spain and the Czech Republic also exported military equipment.
“There is no doubt that at least some of these weapons must have been used against Ukraine”
According to Investigate Europe’s findings, these EU countries exported €346 million worth of military equipment between 2015 and 2020, despite the ongoing embargo. There is no doubt that at least some of these weapons must have been used against Ukraine.
A third of the military equipment was procured by Germany
Germany exported €121.8 million worth of military equipment to Russia, accounting for 35% of all EU arms exports to Russia. It was the second-largest exporter after France. These were mainly icebreakers, rifles and ‘special protection’ vehicles. German exports were labelled as ‘dual use’ to circumvent the embargo. Clever trick!
Third on the list of exporters was Italy, which sold 22.5 million euros worth of military equipment to Russia between 2015 and 2020. The first major contract signed with Russia occurred in 2015 when Matteo Renzi’s government allowed the Italian company Iveco to sell ground vehicles worth a total of 25 million euros to Russia.
Investigate Europe research shows that only €22.5 million worth of equipment went to Russia. These were military vehicles manufactured by IVECO, which, incidentally, were spotted by a journalist from the Italian television channel La 7 on the Ukrainian front at the beginning of March. These vehicles were assembled in one of Iveco’s three factories in Russia but assembled from Italian parts.
Italy increased its arms exports to Russia last year
After 2015, the volume of military equipment exported from Italy to Russia decreased, only to increase again in 2021. According to data from Italy’s foreign trade statistics office Istat, Italy supplied Russia with “arms and ammunition worth 21.9 million euros” between January and November 2021.
These were common weapons such as rifles, pistols, ammunition and accessories. Semi-automatic rifles and ammunition were also supplied. They were sold to the Russian civilian market, which includes private security, paramilitary and special state agencies.
The Czech Republic supplied drones and aircraft engines
Some other states also had a steady flow of exports, albeit on a much smaller scale than the major suppliers. Investigate Europe cites the Czech Republic as one example. The latter exported mainly aeronautical equipment to Russia every year between 2015 and 2019. These included aircraft engines, drones and various aircraft equipment worth 14.2 million euros.
According to Investigate Europe’s findings, Austria also continued to export military equipment to Russia annually, “smoothbore weapons with barrels of less than 20 mm, other weapons and automatic weapons of 12.7 mm” and “ammunition and equipment for setting primers and specially designed components”.
Bulgaria, in turn, concluded two agreements in 2016 and 2018 for the export of warships, special naval equipment (surface or underwater), accessories, components and other surface vessels and technology for the development, production or use of items subject to control under the EU Common Military List, worth 16.5 million euros.
In previous years, Finland, Spain, Slovakia and Croatia had each exported one type of goods to Russia, but of a much smaller value.
A totally ineffective embargo
Arms exports to Russia have taken advantage of legal loopholes in EU rules. In particular, the already mentioned fact that the EU arms embargo contained an exemption for contracts concluded before 1 August 2014 or ancillary contracts necessary for the implementation of these contracts was a major problem.
“The EU as a whole has failed to ensure compliance with sanctions against a superpower that poses a serious security threat to it”
According to data from the Working Party on Arms Non-proliferation and Arms Exports (COARM), Member States issued more than a thousand licences, i.e. general authorisations for arms deals, after 2014, while barely a hundred were refused.
In short, the sanctions imposed on Russia have proved to be toothless, and the consequences of the completely misguided European policy of recent years can be felt first-hand. The war in Ukraine has laid bare the mistakes that Europe has made.
The failure is a slap in the face for the whole EU
Unfortunately, the EU as a whole has failed to ensure compliance with sanctions against a superpower that poses a serious security threat to it. There is no doubt that this is an embarrassment for the entire EU, including the Czech Republic, which is playing into the hands of the Eurosceptics.
The failure should be a slap in the face, especially for the incriminated countries, and a lesson for the future that the entire EU is cutting the branch on which it is sitting by ineffective sanctions. Europe cannot afford further ineffective sanctions and all Member States should realise this.
Text by: Tomáš Zdechovský, MEP
Translation by: Kateřina Urbanová, EIC
Photos by: Tomáš Nosil, Martin Lahousse