Despite Western sanctions intended to prevent the import of drones and other technology to Russia, sensitive electronics are still finding their way to the Russian military through companies recently established by Russians in Kazakhstan, an investigation by the OCCRP, German Der Spiegel, and Russian iStories found.
Investigators found that Kazakh trade data from 2022 strongly suggested that Kazakhstan was being used as an intermediary for Russia to import drones and advanced microchips, used in everything from missiles to demining robots, thereby evading Western sanctions.
According to trade data, Kazakhstan imported close to $5 million worth of drones, almost completely from China, and exported $1.23 million in drones to Russia. Before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kazakhstan imported so few drones they did not even appear in official import-export data, the investigation said.
The import of microchips more than doubled to over $75 million in 2022. Meanwhile the export of microchips from Kazakhstan to Russia was 70 times higher in 2022 from the year before, increasing from a meager $245,000 to $18 million, the investigation showed.
While Kazakhstan's foreign minister has said that his country is doing what it can to avoid sanctions evasion by Russia, he also said it is "very difficult," as Russia and Kazakhstan are part of the Eurasian Economic Union, meaning that trade between the two is not subject to customs checks, the investigation said.