Author: Dr. Angelika Hellweger
14 July 2023
2 min read
With sanctioned Russian timber still finding its way into Europe, Angelika Hellweger of Rahman Ravelli assesses why this is possible.
An investigation has shown that sanctioned Russian timber is still being imported into the European Union (EU).
The investigation, by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), traced the banned wood through third countries, including China, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
The findings are significant, given that Russia is one of the world’s largest timber exporters. Russia has more than a fifth of the world’s forested areas and exported timber worth more than $3 billion to the EU in the year prior to the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
A total ban on Russian timber imports into the EU was imposed in the wake of the invasion. But investigations have identified new pathways being taken to bring Russian wood to the EU, with timber imports into Europe from certain countries having increased after sanctions were imposed on Russia.
In Russia, the state owns the country’s forests and grants logging rights to companies. Several oligarchs with links to the Kremlin own Russia’s largest timber companies. The ICIJ investigations have discovered messages from traders with connections to Russia offering to sell timber from Turkey, Kazakhstan and China. Some disguise the timber’s origins with bogus certification while others openly state how they are working around sanctions.
As EU and UK sanctions include a ban on the import of all timber and timber products from Russia and Belarus, such wood is now considered “conflict timber’’ and is subject to restrictions. It is necessary to identify the origin of a timber consignment and any wood from these two countries cannot be imported or used. It is also forbidden to certify and market products made from such wood.
Some traders have attempted to evade sanctions through the use of third countries. As an example, China and Uzbekistan accounted for more than 74% of timber exports from Russia in the first quarter of this year. The belief is that much of this will find its way to EU countries. Some third countries may also make minor modifications to the timber and then report the modified product as their own in an attempt to mask its true origin. Another tactic involves the use of false tariff classifications, allowing the product to be excluded from sanctions.
Conflict timber is particularly difficult to identify because of the lack of transparency and traceability in the supply chain – an issue that affects every stage from the wood leaving the forest until the final product reaches the consumer.
As a result, there is a lack of detailed information regarding the raw material’s transportation route, especially as it may be moved many times across different jurisdictions by numerous parties. Governments and enforcement agencies often do not have the ability to track products from the forest to the marketplace and most timber importers do not take responsibility for the implications of them buying particular consignments of wood.
Angelika is a specialist in international, high-level economic crime investigations and large-scale commercial disputes. She has widely-recognised expertise in representing corporates and conglomerates in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and United States.