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Russian timber finds illicit path to European markets despite sanctions


Latvian Raids Uncover Smuggling of Russian Plywood Disguised as Kazakh and Kyrgyz Origin

In a startling revelation, reports that Russian timber, explicitly banned under EU sanctions, continues to infiltrate European markets. Recent investigations by the Latvian State Security Service unveiled a web of deceit involving counterfeit documents masking the true origin of plywood products from Russia and Belarus. These counterfeit documents favor false origins in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, thus violating EU sanctions.

The criminal proceedings, initiated in November 2023, reveal suspicions about the transportation of Russian and Belarusian plywood through Latvia to Ukraine. The investigation found that these illicit shipments, accompanied by fraudulent certificates of origin, have contributed to a blatant violation of international sanctions. The Latvian State Security Service promises to share additional information as the investigation progresses.

Notably, the US is under increasing pressure to follow the lead of the EU and the UK in imposing sanctions on Russian timber. Ukrainian environmental NGOs have written to Under-Secretary Nelson, urging the immediate inclusion of Russian timber in the next round of US sanctions. Timber constitutes over half of all remaining US imports of Russian goods, amounting to $1.98 billion since the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian oligarchs, closely connected to Putin’s regime, control vast forested areas, and the military directly profits from timber sales. Despite global concerns and the EU and UK already sanctioning Russian timber, the US continues to import significant quantities.

The exploitation and deforestation in Russia, controlled by Putin’s allies, extend to a France-sized chunk of global forests. Earthsight’s op-ed calls for urgent action to halt Russian timber, pointing out that these sales may finance Russia’s war machine in Ukraine and enrich Putin’s cronies.

The investigation also reveals that, despite sanctions, Russian timber finds alternative routes to enter the EU through countries like China, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. The ICIJ’s Deforestation Inc. exposes new pathways that traders exploit, bypassing bans and contributing to one of Russia’s biggest illegal timber scandals.

The report emphasizes the urgent need for global leaders to address the issue of conflict timber. As European countries grapple with the consequences, Earthsight calls for tightening the noose on Russia and its allies to prevent further exploitation.

In a related development, Russian lumber exports experienced a 10% decline in 2023, with Asian countries dominating the total supply. China, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan were key importers, while Turkey showed a significant increase in imports from Russia.

As concerns mount, the intricate network of Russian timber trade continues to unfold, highlighting the imperative for international collaboration to curb the environmental and geopolitical implications of illicit timber trade. Stay tuned to for further updates on this unfolding story.

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