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Western-made firearms flow into Russia despite sanctions: AOAV examines the extent of the problem

Since February of this year (2024), reports have circulated detailing the recent import of weapons and ammunition from European Union members states and other western nations by Russia in violation of sanctions. This has raised questions around Russia’s ability to arm itself and to evade sanctions, and sparking investigations into the various trade routes and partners that allow for these goods to reach Russia. These investigations have revealed a widespread issue, across numerous brands in multiple countries, and have uncovered a pattern of partner nations assisting in the process.

Brands and Countries of Origin
Seemingly few brands are excluded from these revelations, including many American and European brands. Some of the well-known names implicated include American brand Barrett Firearms, SIG Sauer and Blaser (Germany), Česka Zbrojovka (Czechia), Glock (Austria/USA), and various brands owned by Beretta (Italy). Many other major and minor firearm and ammunition manufacturers were implicated. The imported firearms have been displayed at arms fairs and expos[1] and are currently advertised and in-stock on the websites of various Russian gun stores[2] [3]. The weapons have also been advertised on various Telegram channels affiliated with arms sellers – including those with links to Russian armed groups fighting in various conflicts around the globe.

Particular attention has been paid to the brands CD Europe, Beretta, and Česka Zbrojovka due to their close relationships and joint ownership ventures with Russian arms importers prior to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.Notably, Beretta owns a majority stake of Russkiy Orel, Russia’s largest weapons importer[4]. This company appears to be tied to Mikhail Khubutia who, until 2021, headed the organisation responsible for issuing import certificates for weapons brought into Russia. Increased scrutiny has also been given to SIG Sauer and its parent company L & O Holdings due to a previous violation of a German arm sales ban to Colombia[5].

When contacted about the issue of western manufactured weapons appearing in Russia, most of the brands decline to comment or point to national and EU export regulations for firearms, including the requirement that buyers submit end user certificates agreeing not to transfer weapons to any other country or party. Given the regulations in place, questions of just how these imports are occurring have risen. Investigations into this issue have revealed a network of indirect trade routes through intermediary countries that allow weapons to reach Russia in spite of sanctions banning their export to the country.

Intermediary Trade and Parallel Imports – Turkey, UAE, and EEU
Reviews of UN Comtrade data and Russian weapons import certificates are fairly revealing on this matter. While trade documents reveal a drop in general trade – and particularly trade involving weapons – between western nations and Russia since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and further invasion of Ukraine in 2022, a significant uptick in trade – and especially in the trade of weapons – has occurred between these nations and members of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia[6] [7].

The single market of the EEU allows for goods to be transferred to other member nations with relative ease and fewer documentation requirements.  A comparison of European and Kazakh trade documentation, for example, reflects the role this likely plays in Russian weapons imports. European export documents and Kazakh import documents do not match, often reflecting a lesser value or smaller quantity than what was reported as exported. This could indicate that the goods are continuing on to a third-party and that party could be Russia. Russian import certificates fail to name the distrubuting source of the weapons, noting only the manufacturer and Russian importer.

Similar patterns can be observed in the trade of civilian weapons between western nations and Turkiye and the UAE. Neither nation has sanctioned Russia; in fact, Turkey – a NATO member – has seemingly increased its export of its own small arms to Russia[8]. Both nations have had surges in the number of Russian-owned businesses, often wholesale traders, since 2022. Consequently, overall trade, and especially exports from Turkey and the UAE to Russia have significantly increased in this same period[9].

Likewise, arms exports from Western nations to these two nations have increased in the same timeframe. This is part of a broader change in trading patterns of various goods – primarily luxury and dual-use goods – since 2022 but can be very clearly observed in patterns of civilian small arms exports[10]. China, too, has reportedly and increasingly used Turkey as an intermediary for its small arms sales to Russia.[11]

In 2022, Russia legalised parallel imports, allowing for the import of goods into Russia without the permission of the intellectual property owner. Meaning, if Russia can source goods from European manufacturers, they can be imported to Russia even if the manufacturers have stated otherwise[12]. This move was primarily to continue the import of cars and luxury goods, but weapons and ammunition were also included on the list. Parallel imports to Russia in 2022 may have been valued at as much as $20 billion[13]. The Russian government has extended its legalisation of parallel imports each year since it began in 2022.

The use of third-country intermediaries is not a new phenomenon. Russia has previously avoided sanctions by using third countries for its own arms exports[14]. Nor does this seem to be a secretive process. In its advice to Russian importers dealing with European sanctions, a journal published by a Russian bank describes the possibility of using third countries to avoid sanctions.[15]

Outlook – Optics, Secondary Sanctions, and Enforcement
This pattern of sanctions evasion has not just been noted by Western parties. Russian media have also extensively covered these trade patterns. However, in Russian coverage the implication and emphasis are on the hypocrisy of Western nations in seeming to intentionally circumvent sanctions while simultaneously waging war on Russia through Ukraine for their own financial benefit, a recurring narrative in the Russian coverage.[16]

Europe and the US have begun efforts to close these trade loopholes and prevent further arms from reaching Russia. At the end of 2023, the US temporarily suspended exports of civilian firearms over concerns they may be re-exported or transferred to sanctioned parties. Further sanctions have been placed on companies in Central Asia. A campaign of political pressure involving threats of secondary sanctions has been applied to Turkey, the UAE, and several of the EEU states – a difficult balancing act given their significant economic ties to Russia[17].

At the end of 2023, the EU added a clause to its sanctions on Russia explicitly targeting the issue of re-exports by obliging exporters to place clauses in contracts stating goods cannot be re-exported to Rusia[18]. The clause went into effect at the end of March 2024; it remains to be seen if it can be effectively enforced.

On the issue of western guns entering Russia, Dr Iain Overton of Action on Armed Violence, said: “AOAV’s report unveils the alarming extent to which Western-made firearms are still reaching Russian hands, highlighting a significant failure in the enforcement of international sanctions. It is clear that the networks facilitating these imports are sophisticated and widespread, involving multiple countries and bypassing well-intentioned regulations. The implications of these findings are profound, as they not only undermine global security efforts but also raise serious questions about the integrity of international trade and sanctions enforcement.”

In the end, reports like this hope to shed light on the troubling and extensive evasion of international sanctions by Russia, facilitated through a network of intermediary countries and parallel imports. With Western-made firearms, including those from prominent brands like Barrett, SIG Sauer, and Beretta, finding their way into Russia, AOAV’s report highlights a significant gap in sanctions enforcement.

To this end, AOAV calls for heightened scrutiny, tighter controls, and more robust international cooperation to prevent such violations, which undermine global security and the credibility of international sanctions regimes.


[1] И ты, Beretta? Итальянские компании поставляют в Россию оружие как ни в чем не бывало (theins.ru)

[2] Самозарядный карабин Colt M4 (LE901), кал..308 Win. купить в Москве по цене 1 255 900 руб. (orel-shop.ru)

[3] Карабин Blaser R8 Ultimate Leather, 300 Win Mag №R/268351-RR112525-RB241565 — купить в Москве по цене 1 550 000 руб. (artemida-hunter.ru)

[4] И ты, Beretta? Итальянские компании поставляют в Россию оружие как ни в чем не бывало (theins.ru)

[5] German rifles for Russia (correctiv.org)

[6] Журналисты обнаружили факты поставок в РФ патронов американской компании Hornady | Экономическая правда (epravda.com.ua)

[7] How US-made sniper ammunition ends up in Russian rifles – POLITICO

[8] Russia imports hundreds of firearms from the EU monthly, bypassing sanctions (theins.ru)

[9] Huge surge in the number of Russian, Iranian owned companies in Turkey amid sanctions – Nordic Monitor

[10] The Eurasian roundabout: Trade flows into Russia through the Caucasus and Central Asia (ebrd.com)

[11] ‘Hunting rifles’ — really? China ships assault weapons and body armor to Russia – POLITICO

[12] РИА Новости: Путин подписал закон, легализующий параллельный импорт в России (rospatent.gov.ru)

[13] В ФТС ждут, что объем параллельного импорта в РФ по итогам года превысит $20 млрд (interfax.ru)

[14] Вопреки санкциям: Евросоюз находит все новые пути для торговли с Россией | Россия – Запад | Baltnews – новостной портал о Прибалтике на русском языке, сводки событий, мнения, комментарии.

[15] Санкционные товары в 2024 году: как проверить товар по кодам ТН ВЭД, названию и документам (tinkoff.ru)

[16] Вопреки санкциям: Евросоюз находит все новые пути для торговли с Россией | Россия – Запад | Baltnews – новостной портал о Прибалтике на русском языке, сводки событий, мнения, комментарии.

[17] К чему приведут санкции США и ЕС против третьих стран из-за торговых связей с Россией? – BBC News Русская служба

[18] Правило No Russia. ЕС запретил серый реэкспорт товаров двойного назначения в Россию – BBC News Русская служба