Despite the embargo imposed in 2014, at least ten EU countries sold military equipment and weapons to the Russian Federation. According to the Working Party on Conventional Arms Exports (COARM) and all EU-27 arms export registers, between 2015 and 2020, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Finland, Slovakia and Spain sold weapons worth a total of €346 million to Russia.
For the most part, the countries used a loophole in EU rules to continue trade. The Working Party explained that the EU arms embargo contained the following exception: “Contracts signed before August 1, 2014, or ancillary contracts required to perform such agreements. Those contained in the database must be subject to this exception. The member states are responsible for ensuring compliance with the arms embargo and the EU’s common position.”
However, the conclusion is not so simple. Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), points to a difference between regular economic trade and arms exports, “Weapons are part of our foreign policy, not economic policy. Political reasons are the main thing.”
France made the most significant contribution to Russia’s military arsenal by supplying it with infrared guidance systems. According to Disclose, France sold equipment worth €152 million to Russia.
Since 2015, France has supplied bombs, missiles, rockets, torpedoes, explosives, direct lethal weapons, day and night fire control cameras for fighters and missile systems, and thermal imagers. The number of licenses issued by France jumped in 2015, immediately after the embargo was imposed.
In 2014, French authorities gave permission to send chemical, biological and radioactive materials as well as related equipment. In 2016, France’s General Secretariat for Defense and National Security approved eight applications for warranty repair and replacement of equipment. However, the French government claims that only equipment left from the previously concluded contracts was supplied.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s behavior could be explained by the fact that after the defeat of Russia many “unpleasant” facts might be revealed.
Germany ranks second. According to Investigate Europe, it exported military equipment worth €121.8 million to Russia. The major volume of weapons was exported in 2015. The report says then Germany sold two rescue icebreakers for €119 million. The website of the manufacturer, Nordic Yards, indicates the icebreakers Bering Strait and Murman are intended for search and rescue operations, towing, and environmental protection efforts in case of emergency oil spills. In 2017, Germany sold hydrazine – fuel for rocket engines and spacecraft – for €2.5 million to Russia.
In addition, Germany delivered dual-purpose goods worth €366 million. That’s why the German politicians who slammed arms exports do not consider these supplies a violation of the embargo. According to the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, the deliveries included a variety of high-tech electronics, sensors and lasers that can be used in the manufacture of weapons. The export of these goods was finally banned in the fourth sanctions package.
Italy comes third. From 2015 to 2020, it sold military equipment for a total of €22.5 million. The first major contract was concluded in 2015. The government headed by Matteo Renzi allowed the Italian company Iveco to sell vehicles worth €25 million to Russia. Lynce armored vehicles manufactured by Iveco were spotted by a journalist of LA7 TV channel at the front in Ukraine in early March. According to Istat, Italy’s National Institute of Statistics, in January-November 2021 Italy supplied weapons and ammunition worth €21.9 million.
In 2015-2019, the Czech Republic exported aircraft, drones, aircraft engines and equipment. Every year, Austria sold Russia smoothbore weapons with calibers under 20mm, 12.7mm automatic weapons, ammunition installation devices, detonators and their components. Bulgaria, under two contracts in 2016 and 2018, exported military ships and other vessels, special naval equipment, accessories and components, and technology for the development, production or use of products included in the EU Common Military List to the tune of €16.5 million.
Finland, Spain, Slovakia and Croatia each made one export delivery to Russia, though much smaller than in previous years.
However, according to SIPRI data on arms exports, there is an even more interesting fact: not only EU countries have sold weapons to Russia since the 2014 embargo. It is about not about weapons but licenses for their manufacture. According to SIPRI senior researcher Siemon Wezeman, these were 15 Antonov-148 transport aircraft manufactured at the Voronezh Aircraft Manufacturing Plant in Russia.
In mid-April 2022, the European Commission approved the fifth sanctions package, closing the legal loophole in the 2014 embargo that had allowed deliveries of arms and dual-purpose goods to Russia.