Western brands continue to be available in Russia, despite the sanctions imposed by Western countries following the invasion of Ukraine. Radio Free Europe has uncovered evidence of Central Asian private companies assisting Russia in circumventing these sanctions.
Reporters have identified the role of Kyrgyz and Kazakh companies in facilitating the import process. These companies enable Russian customers to purchase Western computer chips, which have both civilian and military applications. There is a high probability that these chips are being used by the Russian army in the war against Ukraine.
Computer chip trade in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan has seen a significant increase since the start of the conflict. For instance, exports of computers and computer components from Kazakhstan in 2022 were 2,000 times higher than in 2021. Similarly, shipments of integrated circuits to Kyrgyzstan from EU countries were 38 times higher than the previous year.
When contacted by Radio Free Europe, company executives involved in these deals expressed uncertainty regarding their contribution to Russia’s circumvention of sanctions. However, they emphasized that their imported goods are widely used in various applications, including consumer products.
In many cases, the products ordered by these companies from the West are ultimately shipped directly to Russia. To deceive authorities, the companies often present documents indicating delivery to Kazakhstan, while secretly concealing additional documents stating that the goods are actually destined for Russian cities.
The United States and the European Union are urging Central Asian countries to take action against these trade practices. They are seeking to establish a system to verify that goods shipped from Europe, through Russia, to Central Asian countries indeed reach their intended destinations rather than being redirected within Russia.
Given their involvement in illegal re-exports, it is possible that companies from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan could face sanctions from Western countries, despite these countries maintaining a neutral stance on the war in Ukraine.