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Circumventing Sanctions, Russia Acquires Western Weapons Technology through Imports


Despite sanctions imposed by Western nations, and their efforts to keep military technology out of Russian hands, Moscow is finding unique ways to bypass the restrictions. The Russian military, now battling the Ukrainian army, has a vested interest in acquiring sophisticated weaponry and advanced electronic components, including chips, sold by firms in the United States and allied countries.

As the United States and Europe rally to furnish Ukraine with weapons to keep fighting against Russia, their own technology is being used by Russia to fight back. This raises several questions: Are these Western countries’ efforts of imposing sanctions on Russia merely symbolic, or are they actually impeding Moscow’s ability to scale up their weaponry?

Chips as a Weapon:

Military strategists understand that chips are no longer only components of electronic consumer products but also a crucial part of sophisticated weaponry. The United States has long understood the strategic importance of semiconductors, where almost all microprocessor architecture is used for defense purposes. Therefore, the US government has restricted sales of advanced chips and components to countries such as Russia, which it fears may use these to develop advanced military technologies.

Despite such restrictions, Russian military imports of chips from other countries have not significantly declined. China has stepped in to provide Russia with some of what it needs, despite President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14017 prohibiting US investments into Chinese firms selling components to Russian military contractors. This results in the use of Western technology in Russian military assets, including cruise missiles that have struck Ukraine.

Hard Work and Adaptations:

American officials argue that the sweeping sanctions they have imposed in partnership with 38 other governments have severely damaged Russia’s military capacity and raised the cost to Russia to procure the parts it needs. While there is no doubt that the trade restrictions are making it significantly harder for Russia to obtain technology that can be used on the battlefield, Russian technicians and engineers continue to find solutions because of their high levels of expertise in electronics.

“My view is that we’ve been very effective in impeding Russia’s ability to sustain and reconstitute a military force,” said Alan Estevez, who oversees U.S. export controls at the Bureau of Industry and Security at the Commerce Department, in an interview in March. “We recognize that this is hard, hard work,” Mr. Estevez added. “They’re adapting. We’re adapting to their adaptations.”

Supply Chain Network:

Despite Western sanctions, Russia continues to get chips from other countries. It’s really a supply chain network that is very, very large and very complex and not necessarily transparent,” says Sarah V. Stewart, CEO of Silverado Policy Accelerator, a think tank. “Chips are truly ubiquitous.” Companies shipped 1.15 trillion chips to customers worldwide in 2021, adding to a massive worldwide stockpile. China, which is not part of the sanctions regime, is pumping out increasingly sophisticated chips.

Related Facts:

– Despite imposing trade restrictions, Western countries continue to sell weaponry and electronic components to several Middle Eastern countries that are engaged in proxy wars.
– The illegal arms trade globally is worth about $10 billion, according to the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime.
– Increasingly, weapon systems contain advanced electronics that are highly sensitive and cannot fall into the wrong hands.
– China is racing ahead globally in chip manufacturing, while the United States, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan essentially dominate that industry.

Key Takeaway:

Simultaneously imposing sanctions and providing Ukraine with armaments has done little to impede Russia from accosting Crimea or pushing into the Donbas. Despite limitations, Russia’s ability and willingness to adapt, combined with its technical expertise, means that any sanctions imposed on it are unlikely to produce a significant long-term effect in the short term.


Sanctioning Russia may result in a dent in its economy but targeting its ability to procure sensitive technologies will take much more than curbs on sales of electronic components. A more coordinated approach between Western powers is required, including a more nuanced approach to geopolitics by Silicon Valley that supplies critical parts to the superpowers of today.

Denk Liu
Denk Liu
Denk Liu is an honest person who always tells it like it is. He's also very objective, seeing the situation for what it is and not getting wrapped up in emotion. He's a regular guy - witty and smart but not pretentious. He loves playing video games and watching action movies in his free time.


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