Russia’s military remains reliant on foreign microchips for everything from tactical radios to drones and precision long-range munitions. This is just one of several damning conclusions made by a recent report from Statewatch NGO, the Economic Security Council of Ukraine and B4Ukraine, as submitted to the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine.
The coalition’s paper adds to the ever-growing pile of evidence that Western multinationals are assisting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The research has not held back from calling out specific US, Danish, French and German companies for allegedly supporting President Vladimir Putin’s actions, such as Texas Instruments and TotalEnergies.
How foreign companies are helping Russia build its weapons
Since the start of the invasion in February 2022, the Ukrainian military has recovered thousands of intact or partially damaged Russian weapons.
When disassembled, 27 of the captured weapons systems, ranging from cruise missiles to air defence, were found to rely predominantly on Western components, according to research from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Of these, about two-thirds of the parts were manufactured by US-based companies.
In one case, a Russian 9M727 cruise missile – one of the country’s most advanced weapons that can manoeuvre at low altitude to evade radar and strike targets hundreds of kilometres away – contained 31 foreign components. The parts were made by companies that include the US’s and Germany’s largest microchip manufacturers, states the report to the UN.
Like many other defence manufacturers, Texas Instruments has publicly stated that it follows all laws in the countries where it operates and the parts found in the Russian weapons were designed for commercial products. However, more than 80 Western-manufactured commercial microchips have been subject to US export controls since at least 2014 (after Russia’s annexation of Crimea), meaning they would have required a licence to be shipped to Russia. As such, “the companies exporting the parts had a responsibility to carry out due diligence to ensure they were not being sent to the Russian military or for a military end-use”, states the report.
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Following the invasion of Ukraine, Washington implemented sanctions that included a ban on an array of other sensitive microchips being sold to Russia. Countries in Europe, as well as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea – all key chip-making countries – announced similar restrictions.
But now Russia is working to find new routes to secure access to Western microchips. Many components are sold through distributors operating in Asia, such as Hong Kong, which acts as a gateway for electronics making their way to the Russian military or companies acting on its on behalf, according to the RUSI. Meanwhile, in March, the US government said that Russian front companies had been buying up electronics for Russia’s military, with the RUSI finding one company that imported $600,000 worth of electronics manufactured by Texas Instruments through a Hong Kong distributor.
How France is fuelling Russia’s air force
The Termokarstovoye field, in Russia’s far north, has received a lot of attention in recent months. Co-owned by French giant TotalEnergies and the Russian gas company Novatek, it produces more than 60,000 tonnes of gas condensate, a liquid similar to crude oil, each month.
Why does this matter? This condensate is shipped by train to a Gazprom Neft refinery in Omsk, near the Kazakh border, where it is refined into products including petrol, diesel and fuel for aircraft jet engines. More importantly, an investigation by Global Witness, an international environmental organisation, has established that the gas field regularly supplies jet fuel to the Russian air force.
In fact, hundreds of shipments of jet fuel have been made from the Omsk refinery to Russian Air Force bases near Ukraine, both in the lead-up to the invasion on 24 February and during Russia’s continued occupation of the east of the country.
The revelations – based on commercially available rail freight data provided by the Anti-Corruption Data Collective – challenges claims by Total in March that its joint-venture operations are “completely unrelated to the conduct of military operations by Russia in Ukraine” and will heighten pressure on the company to join competitors in pulling out of the country.
Among the destinations for jet fuel refined at Omsk are bases for Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bombers, which began receiving shipments days before the invasion. “Pilots of these jets have been accused by human rights groups and the Ukrainian government of indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, including a 3 March strike on Chernihiv, north of Kyiv, which reportedly killed 47 people, and regular bombardment of the cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol,” states the report to the UN.
Total has defended its decision not to divest from Russia since the invasion of Ukraine, unlike competitors such as BP, saying that current sanctions make it impossible to sell its stakes to non-Russian buyers, and that unilateral withdrawal would “unwarrantedly transfer value to Russian interests”.
Responding to criticism from the Paris offices of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth in March, Total specifically denied that its joint-venture operations in Russia were connected in any way with the war, claiming that “the activities of Novatek […] are completely unrelated to the conduct of military operations by Russia in Ukraine”.
Total has publicly confirmed that all of its gas condensate produced at the Termokarstovoye field is sold to Novatek, but has said that it did not have any information on Novatek’s subsequent sales and has no control over the operational activities of Novatek, which is an entirely separate company.
Helping to mobilise the Russian army
Multinationals’ alleged complicity with the Russian war machine extends beyond parts. Bodies too must be provided. As of late September, Western companies in Russia now have to help Putin mobilise his army.
Kremlin legislation from 21 September mandates that all organisations, including international companies, conduct military registration of their staff (if at least one of the employees is eligible for military service). They must also assist with delivering the summons from the military to their employees, ensure the delivery of equipment to assembly points or military units, and provide buildings, communications, land plots, transport and other material means, as well as any relevant information.
In short, international companies are now legally obliged to assist the Kremlin’s war mobilisation by helping conscript soldiers and equip the army. Foreign businesses in Russia employ some 700,000 people in the country, according to an analysis by B4Ukraine – a coalition of Ukrainian and international civil society organisations.
To end the aforementioned violations summarised in this article, the UN-bound report gives five critical recommendations to policymakers and boardrooms:
- Highlight the heightened due diligence obligations throughout all aspects of a business’s operations.
- Strengthen export controls, shut down Russia’s clandestine procurement networks, and prevent sensitive components from being manufactured in states that support Russia.
- Companies mentioned in the report should be further investigated to establish corporate complicity in the crimes committed in Ukraine.
- All sectors of businesses should be advised to leave the Russian market at once to avoid their direct or indirect participation in the war effort, as obliged under Russian law.
- Launch a process of investigation and remediation through compensation to victims and cooperation with authorities.