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Western Companies Keep Modernizing Russian Missiles That Kill Ukrainians

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Photo: Russian missiles and drones after the unprecedented shelling of Kyiv in May 2023 
Source: Kyiv City State Administration Wikipedia
Photo: Russian missiles and drones after the unprecedented shelling of Kyiv in May 2023 Source: Kyiv City State Administration Wikipedia

"Over the 500 days of full-scale war, Russia has killed more than 10,500 civilians in Ukraine," reports the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, "and 115,000 civilian infrastructure objects have been destroyed. These impressive, but unfortunately not final, losses were caused by weapons containing components produced and imported from the democratic world."

After 15 months of horrific open warfare, tens of thousands of sanctions, and civilian casualties, how could products manufactured in countries with Western values become a driver of violence, helping Russia boost its military capacity?

1,000 foreign components that kill in Ukraine

More than a thousand foreign components were found in Russian weapons in Ukraine. This is stated in the report of the international working group on sanctions against Russia - the so-called Yermak-McFaul Expert Group. The analyzed data clearly shows that despite unprecedented sanctions, Russia continues to receive foreign components for the production of missiles and other weapons.

According to last year's estimates by the Royal United Services Institute, the Russian defense sector uses more than 450 different types of foreign components in 27 equipment systems, many of which are manufactured by American microelectronics companies.

A year later, the situation has not changed.

  • The International Working Group on Russian Sanctions has analyzed data on Russian weapons found in Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion:
  • A total of 1,057 separate foreign components, half of which are microchips and microprocessors were found in 58 Russian weapons;
  • 155 companies were identified as manufacturers of these components, with headquarters in 19 countries;
  • 18 companies in the United States are responsible for about two-thirds of the components found;
  • out of 1,185 Harmonized System (HS) codes, 385 were identified as potentially indicative of export control violations. Of these, only 170, or less than half, are on the EU's dual-use goods list that require a license;

Vadym Skibitskyi, deputy head of the Defense Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, said that most foreign components were found in Iskander and Kinzhal missiles used by Russia to fire at civilian areas of Ukrainian cities.

"We have analyzed all the components in all the so-called modern missiles of the Russian Federation. Most of the foreign components on which Russia critically depends are in two products - Iskander and Kinzhal. Somewhere around fifty components of the electronic base in these missiles are foreign-made," he said.

"What is important is that these weapons containing foreign parts were manufactured by Russia after the imposition of unprecedented sanctions," the "Russia’s Military Capacity And The Role Of Imported Components" report states.

"It is striking that the components identified by the Ukrainian authorities in these Russian missiles are associated with many companies whose components have appeared in other intercepted weapons on the territory of Ukraine since April 2022, namely American Analog Devices, Texas Instruments, Microchip Technology, Intel Corporation, AMD, Vicor, XILINX, ZILOG, Maxim Integrated, Cypress Semiconductor, as well as German Infineon Technologies, Korean Samsung, and Swiss STMicroelectronics."

These components are not from old stocks. In December 2022, Conflict Armament Research (CAR) analyzed the remains of two Russian X-101 missiles in Kyiv and concluded with almost certainty that they had been manufactured within the previous two months (i.e., before November 2022).

The study found that critical components were found in the Iskander-K and Kalibr missiles, drones, including Orlan and Korsar, armored vehicles and artillery, including T-72 tanks, Tornado-G missiles, Typhoon-K vehicles, helicopters, electronic warfare equipment, small electronic devices, etc.

The foreign components found include mostly microcircuits, microprocessors, transistors, storage devices, voltage regulators, capacitors, transceivers, and others.

Despite the sanctions, imports of these components have not stopped; after an initial drop in April-May 2022, volumes have since recovered to levels comparable to pre-war trade.

How do foreign components get to Russia?

During his address to the European Council summit in late June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that many of the missiles fired at Ukraine were "recently produced and contain critical components made by companies in the free world."

"Unfortunately, Russia still has the ability to obtain critical components for missile production from companies around the world, including companies from some partner countries. These components are then transported to Russia in various ways," Zelenskyy said a few weeks earlier.

Goods are almost entirely supplied through third countries. The share of indirect sales to Russia increased from 54% in 2021 to 98% in the fourth quarter of 2022.

At the end of 2022, more than three quarters of sales to Russia were made through an intermediary in China, while in 2021 the corresponding figure was only 22%. Hong Kong and Turkey are also among the largest exporters of Western components for weapons production to Russia. And a small share goes to the European Union, South Korea, and Vietnam.

"The export control regime is not as effective as it should be. Too many components from Western countries find their way to Russia. Even recognizing that some cases of export control circumvention can be avoided if companies located in third countries are outside the direct reach of the sanctions coalition," analysts say.

How to solve the problem? 

Many of the companies, manufacturing components used by Russia to produce weapons, are headquartered primarily in the United States. Some others are in Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and China.

And the largest number of components is produced by the American companies Analog Devices, Texas Instruments, Microchip Technology, Intel Corporation, AMD, German Infineon Technologies, and Korean Samsung.

Exports (dual-use - excluding civilian products) of US critical components to Russia produced by Intel Corporation amounted to more than USD 700 million in 2022, up from USD 500 million in previous years.

Other companies' revenues in US dollars are as follows: 500 million for Samsung KR, 190 million for US Analog Devices, 180 million for US Texas Instruments, and 160 million each for AMD and Xilinx.

"In fact, only ten companies are responsible for more than 200 components. And, above all, more than 80 of these components are subject to U.S. export controls, but the Russian military still managed to obtain them, possibly through third-country intermediaries," the "Russia’s Military Capacity And The Role Of Imported Components" report says.

It is not known for certain whether companies from the Western world know where their products are going. Are they aware that their goods are being used to kill Ukrainian civilians?

Perhaps an effective tool to counteract this process would be to allow manufacturers to track the "path" of their products from a bona fide buyer to the end consumer, as well as imposing restrictions on trade with countries that supply products to Russia and further isolating Russia from trade with democratic countries, except for a few humanitarian categories and unauthorized energy carriers.

Of course, such methods are unusual for business practitioners and seem difficult to implement and even somewhat painful. However, once implemented, these recommendations will significantly limit Russia's ability to uncontrollably kill Ukrainian civilians in an attempt to take over a sovereign state in the center of the European continent.

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