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8 Feb 2023

Olena Tregub, Financial Times

Opinion: Western components have no place in Russia’s arsenal

8 February 2023,

As Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine approaches its first anniversary, there is increasing evidence that western technology is playing a vital role in sustaining Moscow’s war effort. Restricting Russian access to these would have a devastating effect on the country’s operations in Ukraine, since much of its equipment, including aircraft and tanks, is dependent on western parts. Manufacturers have a moral obligation to know how their products are being used: given the destruction being wreaked against Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure, ignorance is no excuse.

Nako’s own investigations have revealed that the Shahed-136, an Iranian-made drone being used by Russian forces, contains more than 30 components manufactured in the west. Further research by the Royal United Services Institute think-tank has also uncovered that US-based Texas Instruments and Analog Devices accounted for nearly a quarter of the western components found in captured Russian weapons, including the Orlan-10 drone. Texas Instruments technology was also located in the Kh-101 cruise missile.

These two weapons have proved crucial: the Orlan-10 is the Russian army’s most frequently-used surveillance drone, and has directed many of the thousands of shells that have been fired daily on Ukrainian positions since the start of the invasion. The Kh-101, meanwhile, has been used to target civilian infrastructure.

As the conflict drags on, there are now reports that Moscow has drawn up “shopping lists” of the components needed to keep its military industry supplied. Most are made by companies in the US, UK, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as Japan and Taiwan. Semiconductors are high on the list. Cutting off Russian access to dual-use technologies is vital: a chip used in a refrigerator or a toaster can easily serve as part of a missile guidance system. Both direct and indirect bulk deliveries of such chips to Russia must be discontinued.

The manufacturers of these components tend to argue that they are complying with sanctions. However, the UN’s Global Compact, which has been signed by many of the relevant companies, underlines the need for businesses to ensure they are not complicit in human rights abuses. Many western manufacturers are also committed to the principle of responsible business under their ESG policies...

The immediate solution is to recognise that the problem exists. Up to now, businesses and policymakers alike have gone to great lengths to shirk responsibility. For businesses, deliberately interrogating customers about their end users and conducting more enhanced due diligence would be a prudent first step.

Governments, meanwhile, must take immediate steps to examine the supply networks both inside and outside their borders and review and strengthen export controls. They should also investigate third countries which are facilitating re-export or trans-shipment of controlled goods to Russia as an urgent priority. Finally, policymakers should consider whether suppliers of dual-use products to Russia — accidental or otherwise — should be allowed to bid for government contracts.

Weapons supply and maintenance is the Russian army’s Achilles heel. It is high time the west lived up to its responsibilities by helping Kyiv to exploit it.

Part of the following timelines

Ukraine: Global outrage over Russian invasion leads to sanctions, demands for businesses to divest

Ukraine invasion: Crucial role of tech companies highlighted after Russian 'act of aggression'