This photograph taken on September 11, 2022, shows abandoned munitions in a village on the outskirts of Izyum, Kharkiv Region, eastern Ukraine, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images
Russian military production is exceeding pre-war levels thanks to smuggling tactics.The US and other Western countries have tried to slash Russia’s military strength with sanctions.Western officials worry increased Russian artillery could mean a dark and cold winter for Ukraine.
Russian production of missiles and ammunition is thriving even in the face of Western sanctions, with military manufacturing outpacing even pre-war levels in the country, The New York Times reported this week.
Western officials worry an increased stockpile of Russian artillery could mean an exceptionally dark and cold winter for Ukraine if Russia ramps up its attacks on civilian and energy infrastructure in Kyiv and beyond, according to the outlet.
Russia relies on its artillery to beat back Ukraine on the front lines while launching its missiles with the mission of disrupting civilian life in Ukraine.
The US and other Western allies of Ukraine have sought to slash Russia’s military strength since the war began in February 2022, imposing strict sanctions against the country and arming Ukraine with billions of dollars in assistance and aid.
American officials estimate early sanctions forced Russia to slow its production of missiles and other weaponry for at least six months, according to The Times.
But since then, Moscow has managed to mostly circumvent the West’s sanctions, exploiting loopholes and importing US technology through neighboring states, online retailers, and a network of fake companies, Insider previously reported.
Such smuggling has allowed Russian military production to not only recover but increase beyond pre-war levels. Before the country invaded Ukraine, a senior Western defense official told The Times that Russia could make 100 tanks a year; now they’re averaging 200.
Western officials told the outlet that Russia is on track to manufacture two million artillery shells a year, which is twice as many as Western intelligence originally estimated it could make before the war.
Russia, in fact, is now producing more ammunition than the US and Europe, with one senior Estonian defense ministry official telling The Times that Russia’s current production is seven times that of the West.
Manufacturing costs are also much lower in Russia than in the West as the country churns out low-quality equipment.
Ukraine’s Western allies are working to curb Russia’s smuggling network but have thus far failed to significantly slow the trade, The Times reported.
“They got more and more creative with their evasion attempts. And we have been really aggressively working a number of different ways to clamp down,” Matthew S. Axelrod, the Commerce Department’s assistance secretary for export enforcement, told The Times.
Despite growing concern, Western officials said Russia’s breakneck speed of actually using its military equipment is still outpacing its production levels: the country fired about 10 million rounds of artillery last year, but is on track to produce just two million rounds this year.
As a result, Russia is still seeking additional aid from its few remaining allies, including North Korea, which has a desirable arsenal of weapons and ammo that could help supplement Russia’s own stockpile.