Re-export for the Kremlin: how Yerevan manages to evade sanctions for helping Moscow

While the United States and the European Union are trying to deprive Russia of access to components used for the needs of the Russian army, Paris, being lenient with Yerevan, is helping to ensure that Moscow has something with which to carry on war in Ukraine.

On February 23, the European Union introduced the 13th package of sanctions, expanding the list of goods prohibited for export to Russia.

It included 194 individuals and legal entities, as well as 27 organizations accused of military cooperation with the Kremlin to circumvent Western sanctions.

Among those subject to sanctions are companies from China, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Serbia, Thailand and even Sri Lanka.

However, one of Putin’s main logistics hubs, which has been helping him avoid sanctions for more than two years, again went unpunished.

We are talking about Armenia, which wants  to have its cake and eat it too: on the one hand, Yerevan gets out of its way creating the impression of reorientation towards the West, and on the other, it continues to remain a re-export country.

It is noteworthy that on the same day, February 23, the United States also updated the sanctions lists for the Russian Federation, adding about 600 individuals and legal entities from 11 countries who “promote the evasion of sanctions against the Russian Federation.” But again, not a single company from Armenia was included in the lists.

What is the reason for this “selective blindness” of the Western community? The EU’s publication on the adoption of the 13th round of sanctions stated that the Union “continuously assesses the effectiveness of existing measures… identifies and eliminates any potential loopholes.” But in the course of over 700 days of the Russian-Ukrainian war, not only was Armenian complicity with the Kremlin’s war machine not stopped, but it seems to have been deliberately ignored.

At the same time, there are more than enough facts that Armenia is Russia’s main channel for circumventing sanctions.

This is primarily evidenced by economic data: in 2022, when the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine, exports from Armenia to Russia grew by an unprecedented 187 per cent.

Then the Minister of Finance of Armenia Vahe Hovhannisyan admitted that a significant part is re-export.” A year later, the Yerevan “loophole” has not been identified or eliminated. As a result, over nine months of 2023, exports of goods from Armenia to the Russian Federation increased by 85 per cent, of which 80 per cent are re-exports.

In total, since the start of the war in Ukraine and the adoption of sanctions by the West against the Kremlin, exports from Armenia to the Russian Federation have grown by a staggering 430 per cent. These data were released in February 2024 by Robin Brooks, former director of the Institute of International Finance and former strategist at Goldman Sachs, noting that such dynamics “mean re-export (via Armenia) of EU and Chinese goods to Russia.”

In addition to economic data, the problem of re-export of sanctioned goods through Armenia has been regularly covered for two years by European, American and even Middle Eastern media, including such authoritative ones as Forbes, France 24, Financial Times, Geopolitical Monitor, EUReporter, Newsweek, BNN Breaking, i24Tv, Politico and The Wall Street Journal.

Despite unambiguous data and the attention of major world media to the problem, the West is taking absolutely no measures against Armenian re-export, which is criminal against the people of Ukraine.

Brussels and Washington, for unknown reasons, “turn a blind eye to Yerevan’s close ties with the Kremlin,” notes the largest Romanian publication Digi24.

It is unlikely that the leaders of the EU countries and the United States did not notice so many facts of systematic violations on the part of Armenia. Rather, someone’s political patronage protects Yerevan from secondary sanctions again and again. But whose patronage and why?

One of the EU countries clearly stands out for the intensification of relations with Armenia over the past year.

Since May 2023, French weapons have been supplied to Yerevan. The first batch included 50 Bastion armored personnel carriers. In February 2024, during Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s visit to Paris, Emmanuel Macron said that the countries would continue “cooperation in the defence sector.” At the same time, it became known that a new batch of weapons had been sent to Yerevan.

On February 23, the head of the French Ministry of Defense, Sebastien Lecornu, announced that from now on “a French military adviser will be constantly present in Armenia.”

He also said that this year Paris will supply air defense systems to Armenia and begin training local military personnel. In connection with the provision of French weapons to Armenia, the largest Ukrainian publication Censor noted in November 2023: “By supplying Armenia with weapons, Paris has finally secured its status as the military-political patron of Yerevan.”

“Paris is undermining the efforts of Washington and Brussels,” explained the Greek publication Protothema

If Macron really is behind the “immunity” of Armenia, then such a policy is indeed completely contrary to the interests of the EU and the United States, which for two years have been supplying Ukraine with billions of dollars worth of weapons to fight the Russian invasion. In fact, Paris is playing against its key partners.

While Washington and Brussels are trying to deprive the Kremlin of access to components used for the needs of the Russian army, Paris, being lenient with Armenia, is helping to ensure that Moscow has weaponry to fight with.

The Ukrainian publication Unian warned: “Armenia is becoming an economic rear for the Russians, closing for Moscow the problems with the supply of weapons to the Russian market.”

The problem of inconsistency between Macron’s policies and the general line of the United States and the EU was also noticed by the international media. Throughout 2023, major publications reported this.

“Macron’s policy in the South Caucasus meets Putin’s interests,” explained the Ukrainian Telegraf.

According to the Lithuanian publication Alfa, “Macron’s policy towards the South Caucasus does not coincide with the foreign policy of the European Union.”

“French adventurism and desire to keep its contacts in Lebanon continually place Paris’ interests over the interests of the West again. Like in the South Caucasus, France has found itself on the side of Iran and Russia, (and not the West),” stated the American mouthpiece of moderate Republicans, The National Interest.

According to the Romanian Stiripesurse, “the French president admitted that his position (on Armenia) is not shared by the rest of Europe.”

It is noteworthy that it was the French division of Forbes that in May 2023 called on the West to take action against Armenian re-exports: “It is necessary to deprive Moscow of this logistics hub as soon as possible and strictly cut off the illegal supply of materials and equipment used in the Russian military industry.” But even after 13 packages of sanctions in two years, these calls have still not been heard.

(Photo: Mcschreck)

Igor Chalenko

Igor Chalenko is an Ukrainian political scientist who heads the Centre for Analysis and Strategies, Ukraine.