The UK and other countries imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea - so why did the Government continue to allow companies to export weapons there?
Russian forces invaded and subsequently seized Crimea, a coastal region of Ukraine, on the orders of President Vladimir Putin on 27 February 2014. Countries around the world – including the UK – condemned the move and imposed sanctions on Russia in response.
But according to data compiled by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), UK companies were granted 30 licences to export £3.7 million worth of goods classed as for military purposes to Russia between then and 30 September 2021, when data was last released.
This included £1.4 million worth of components for military aircraft, helicopters or drones, and £1.2 million of ammunition.
The figures are extracted from a database maintained by the UK Export Control Joint Unit, an arm of government charged with controlling exports of military equipment, or goods that could potentially be used for military purposes.
The £3.7 million worth of licences to Russia is a relatively small figure against the wider backdrop of UK arms exports, which totalled £35 billion over the same period.
But it may raise questions about the stringency of UK government controls on exports to rogue nations, given Russia’s standing on the world stage after its actions in Crimea.
The UK Export Control Joint Unit does not reveal the value of goods companies actually exported to Russia – just the value of goods that they were given permission to export, regardless of whether they actually followed through with it.
The figures quoted cover just goods specifically for military purposes.
But companies can also be granted licences for ‘dual purpose’ goods – those that could be used for both military and non-military purposes.
Examples include computer chips and other electronic components, optical equipment, and even biological materials such as viruses and animal pathogens.
Boris Johnson announced on Thursday (24 February) that dual purpose licences allowing exports to Russia would be suspended, as part of a new package of sanctions.
When including these, the number of licences granted for exports to Russia since it annexed Crimea rises to 1,129, worth a combined £1.2 billion.
Only ‘standard’ licences are included, however, which cover a specific quantity of goods and impose a maximum value on exports.
UK firms were also granted 199 unlimited ‘open’ licences to export dual purpose goods, which impose no such conditions.
There is no way of knowing the quantity or value of goods that may have been exported under these circumstances.
The bulk of the £3.7 million worth of standard licences for military goods were granted in 2014, with some following in 2015, 2016 and 2018. None have been granted since then, as of the end of September.
Some licences were subsequently revoked – but the value of these comes to only £110,000, less than 3% of the total. The licences relating to components for military aircraft or drones were not revoked.
The UK Department for International Trade said an arms embargo was imposed on Russia in July 2014 following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and that after this time, only licenses consistent with the sanctions measures had been approved.
A spokesperson said: “We have not granted any export licences to Russia for controlled military items following the arms embargo imposed in July 2014 for its illegal annexation of Crimea.
“The UK has suspended the approval of new export licences for dual-use items to Russia with immediate effect. All extant licences for those items will be suspended and military exports to Russia remain prohibited.”
This article was amended at 7pm on February 25 to add a comment once it had been received from the Department for International Trade.
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