UK to investigate claims it breached Russian arms embargo

'Credible allegations' claim Russian weapons have parts made in Britain and other western nations

TOS-1A Buratino multiple rocket launchers move along Tverskaya Street before a Victory Day parade in Red Square in June 2020, marking the anniversary of victory in the Second World War. Tass via Getty

Live updates: follow the latest news on Russia-Ukraine

The British government has said it will investigate any “credible allegations” its arms embargo on Russia has been breached amid concerns that Moscow’s modern weaponry relies heavily on parts produced in the UK and other western nations.

A Whitehall inquiry is under way, according to The Daily Telegraph, after a report by the Royal United Services Institute think tank highlighted the extent to which the Russian equipment used in Ukraine depends on imports of sophisticated electronics.

Among the examples cited was the Borisoglebsk-2 mobile jamming system, used to disrupt enemy communications, which was found to contain parts made in the UK, US, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan and the Netherlands.

The report’s authors said they examined an onboard computer recovered from the wreckage of an advanced Russian cruise missile, requiring highly specialised material and parts , much of which had come from the US.

They also spoke of the Russian TOR-M2 air-defence system — described as “one of the most potent short-ranged air-defence systems in the world” — which relies on a British-designed oscillator in the computer controlling its radar.

“The pattern is universal,” said the report, by Dr Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds.

“Almost all of Russia’s modern military hardware is dependent upon complex electronics imported from the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Israel, China and further afield.

“In some instances, these components are civilian dual-use electronics that can be procured commercially.

"In many more, however, they are pieces of military or specialised technologies for which there are a small number of regulated suppliers.”

While Britain has had an arms embargo on Russia in place since President Vladimir Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, UK-supplied parts might not be in breach of the ban.

Under its terms, the government says it will not license exports where there is a risk that the equipment will be “diverted to an undesirable end-user or for an undesirable end-use”, with decisions made on a case by case basis.

In December, as Russian troops were massing on the Ukrainian border, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan announced the licensing criteria and military end-use controls were being strengthened to ensure they properly addressed the threats facing the country.

But officials acknowledge it is “likely” that some Russian military equipment contains sub-components — some of them legitimate dual military-civilian use items that are not controlled — obtained from western countries, including the UK.

“The UK has one of the most robust and transparent export control regimes in the world, and an immediate arms embargo was imposed on Russia in July 2014 following its illegal annexation of Crimea,” a government spokesman said.

“We take all credible allegations of breaches of export control seriously and we will take further action if appropriate.”

Updated: May 03, 2022, 5:19 AM