Check facts

How Russia Imports Machinery for Arms Production and Can It Be Stopped

IStories revealed imports worth over 6 billion rubles in 2023

17 Apr 2024
How Russia Imports Machinery for Arms Production and Can It Be Stopped
Modern weapons can only be produced on modern computer-operated machinery. PHOTO: Votkinsk Machine Building Plant

Russian tanks, guns, and missiles are being made on imported machinery. For the Russian defense industry, these machines are of more value than microchips, which can be easily acquired through friendly nations like China. With China failing to produce machinery of the required standard, purchases must be made in the hostile West.

This pattern of dependence dates back 15-20 years. In Soviet times, it was not the machinery but the highly skilled experts — the lathe operators, millers, etc. — that were of most importance to the industry. Back then, manufacturing precision depended entirely on the expertise of the workers. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the defense industry descended into a period of stagnation and financial crisis. By the time Putin ascended to power with the intention of reinvigorating the stagnant industry, there was no one left to work: the experts had either retired or moved on in search of a decent salary.

The Soviet defense industry relied on highly skilled experts. Today, with far fewer workers of the required caliber, greater value is placed on machines.
The Soviet defense industry relied on highly skilled experts. Today, with far fewer workers of the required caliber, greater value is placed on machines.

However, by that time, the West had long mastered the production of computer numerical controls (CNCs) — entirely computer automated machinery, only requiring human intervention for the loading of some initial data. While it would previously take 10-15 years to train an expert, training an operator requires roughly a year. Thus, imported CNC machines became the mainstay of the defense industry.

Russian military enterprises have procured a significant number of these machines. However, the drills, cutters, and even the machines themselves wear out and need to be replaced. With the onset of the war, production needed to be ramped up, meaning more machines were required. Since all industry in Russia is now geared towards the war effort, all imports of machines and consumables are military focused.

Through close analysis of customs data, IStories found that in 2023 Russia imported at least 6.4 billion rubles worth of CNC machines and components. 

Who manufactures these machines for Russia

As a starting point for our investigation, we examined a report published by Rhodus, titled “How does Russia make missiles?” Their detailed investigation includes a list of manufacturers whose machines the authors noticed operate in Russian enterprises producing ballistic, cruise, anti-ship, and anti-aircraft missiles. These manufacturing plants are associated with four corporations: Roscosmos, Tactical Missile Corporation, Almaz-Antey, and Rostec. We decided to examine how the machinery is being imported.

According to customs data, the majority of the largest missile manufacturers continue to supply machinery and consumables to Russia.

Top 10 manufacturers of machinery imported into Russia in 2023 (value of imported goods in rubles)

CompanyAmount in rubles
Doosan (South Korea)
1.6 billion
Hanwha (South Korea)
1.0 billion
Spinner (Germany)
549 million
Fanuc (Japan)
475 million
Hermle (Germany)
464 million
TOS Varnsdorf (Czech Republic)
419 million
DMG Mori (Germany)
295 million
Hyundai (South Korea)
213 million
Kovosvit (Czech Republic)
206 million
GF (Switzerland)
194 million

Where the machines are imported from

Due to the sanctions regime, most of the machines and components enter Russia through Turkey — Spinner, who has a Turkish branch, favors this route in particular. Other predictable intermediaries are the UAE and China — with two-thirds of Fanuc shipments coming through the latter. South Korea primarily imports goods directly.

Top 10 dispatchers of machinery imported into Russia in 2023

Dispatcher countryAmount in rubles
Czech Republic
110 million
99 million
80 million
31 million
21 million

IStories contacted several companies that, according to customs data, import machinery and components from Europe into Russia. Some appear to care little that their machinery is used in weapons manufacturing, while others claim it was a mistake or a straight up lie.

The German company DK Werkzeuge, headed by the St. Petersburg native Dmitry Kostin, sent components produced by GF to the St. Petersburg company DKV Rus, which incidentally also belongs to Kostin. While confirming to IStories that they do export machinery from the EU, Kostin could not recall this particular deal. “We have many clients, it’s entirely possible that they later sell our products to arms manufacturers,” Kostin admits. He knows that the German police are investigating his business (he has already been caught making similar dealings in Russia), but so far this has been inconclusive. “If my products end up in arms factories, it doesn’t bother me; I don’t care,” Kostin reflects. “I think everything [the war] will end soon enough, and everyone will live harmoniously.”

Tallinn-based company United Stream sent Trumpf machinery components from Germany to Russia. A phone number listed on the company’s website is linked to the Telegram account of a certain Andrei Legkostup. An individual with the same name was cited on the Ukrainian “Peacemaker” database for participating in Russia’s propaganda activities and smuggling goods through the Luhansk People’s Republic, prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Estonian NGO Dobrosvet, which is represented by Legkostup, sent humanitarian aid and vehicles to the Donbas. Andrei Legkostup refused to comment on these findings.

If my products end up in arms factories, it doesn’t bother me; I don’t care.
Dmitry Kostin, German exporter

A representative of Spanish company Vanto Machines stated that they did not export anything to Russia. However, according to customs data, a Schaublin machine from a Spanish dealer entered Russia in March 2023, but the “trading country” field indicated Turkey without specifying the company name. The Vanto representative suspects that a Turkish client provided a false declaration and used their company name. Elaborating further, the rep apparently received a request to purchase a used Schaublin machine from an employee at a Turkish company (but refused to disclose the identity of the person and the company, citing European data protection regulations.) The Turkish buyer offered to handle the transportation and hired a Polish company to collect the machine from Spain. Vanto Machines merely received verification that the goods had arrived in Turkey (purchase documents provided to IStories confirmed that the products were bound for Istanbul.)

The Polish company Soldream Polska fell into a similar predicament by importing parts for Italian Biglia machines into Russia upon the request of Turkish company Yensa Dogal Ensa Kozmetik Urunleri Sanayi. Soldream operates across two sectors: manufacturing precision components for the aerospace, medical, and optical industries; as well as selling and servicing machines from various manufacturers, including Biglia. Soldream informed IStories that in 2023 they sold mechanical components to their Turkish partner: “But we’re surprised that this product was exported into Russia. If this is indeed the case, our company asserts that it will take all necessary measures to prevent this happening again.”

According to exporters, errors do occur. For instance, according to customs records, in January 2023 Swiss TL Technology exported Schaublin machinery from Latvia into Russia. However, TL Technology insists that they last exported a machine to Russia at the end of 2021: “Since the beginning of 2022, we have ceased all operations with the Russian Federation and Belarus. We laid off local employees and closed local offices in the first quarter of 2022.”

A representative of German company Sales Pro also points to data error, claiming the company complies with sanctions and does not supply Fanuc parts to Russia.

Who imports machinery into Russia

Top 10 importers of machinery into Russia in 2023

Importer companyAmount in rubles
IPK Finval
1.0 billion
942 million
601 million
437 million
400 million
Engineering Center for Industrial Equipment
169 million
137 million
136 million
114 million
Prima Power
99 million

By the end of last year and the beginning of 2024, most of the companies at the top of the list had been sanctioned: Finval, Alliance, Avbis, and SFT. IStories studied their financial documents and concluded that these companies counted defense enterprises among their largest clients.

Companies in the latter half of the list are not currently under sanctions, despite many of them participating in the military-industrial complex.

  • The St. Petersburg Engineering Center for Industrial Equipment imported DMG Mori machines worth 169 million rubles in 2023. That same year, the company sold South Korean Doosan machines to the Kaluga Electromechanical Plant (which produces, among other things, synchronous electric motors; and is venturing into drone production this year), DMG Mori machines to ODK-Saturn (aircraft and other engines), and machines from unspecified brands to Proton-PM (rocket engines). The first two companies are part of Rostec, and the latter is a faction of Roscosmos. The Engineering Center also counts the Ryazan State Instrument Plant (onboard radar stations for fighter jets), Zaslon (equipment for military aviation), and ODK-UMPO (aircraft engines) among its client base.
  • The Omsk-based Vega-OM imported German Spinner machines in 2023. Financial documents from Vega-OM indicate that in 2023, it leased “property” for 74 million rubles to the Omsk Engine Design Bureau, specializing in the development, production, and repair of small gas turbine engines for civilian and military use.
  • Moscow-based Mashex-Service imported machines worth 136 million rubles. The company provided technical support and sold machinery components to OKB Kristall, which specializes in the development of various aviation systems. Mashex-Service also carried out repair work at the Karachev Plant Electrodetal, which develops connectors for military and civilian equipment.
  • Moscow-based Prima Power is the Russian branch of the Italian machine manufacturer, Prima. Last year, Prima Power’s Russian clients included the Omsk Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Engineering (radio communication systems), the Central Design Bureau of Automation (missile seeker heads, radio reconnaissance), NPO Avrora (control systems for the Navy), Izhevsk Electromechanical Plant Kupol (air defense systems), as well as the Ural Automotive Plant, which manufactures armored vehicles. The CEO of Prima Power, Alexey Bulgakov, told IStories that the deliveries were fulfilled before the introduction of corresponding European sanctions. The last delivery, according to customs data, took place in July 2023, and the EU banned the export of machinery in December.
  • Customs documents suggest that Autologistika imported Doosan machines worth almost a billion rubles in 2023. The company is also engaged in transportation and seems to have appeared on our list by accident, having at some stage been marked as a buyer. An IStories journalist, posing as a client looking to buy machinery, contacted Autologistika. The employee made clear that they do not trade machinery and only offer transportation services.
  • Machinery importers Art-Mekhaniks also appear unconnected to the military-industrial complex. The head of Art-Mekhaniks, Iskander Basyrov, told IStories that the machines the company imported into Russia were not new and had been used in engineering plants for 5-10 years, meaning they are incapable of providing the minute precision that the military-industrial complex requires: “Our clients are small private enterprises that produce general-purpose products that do not require high manufacturing precision.”

Can this be stopped

Machinery produced by leading global manufacturers continues to enter Russia for the purposes of arms production. IStories discussed this issue with the founder of Rhodus, Kamil Galeev.

– In 2023, Russia imported machinery and components worth 6.4 billion rubles. Is this a large or small amount?

Very, very small. But the true amount is likely much larger. Supplies from the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) — Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, etc. — are either undocumented or very poorly documented. The catch is that many tools and components can be classified differently, as “electrical appliances” for instance, and hence fly under the radar. And this is not only caused by sanctions, but also Russian tariffs and restrictions. In the pre-war period at least, most documents were falsified in this way. For example, in Russia, they began demanding the procurement of more domestic products. Initially, they could simply assemble foreign products in Russia and get away with it, but then the authorities insisted that a product must contain a certain number of Russian components for it to be considered domestic. Importers went to great lengths falsifying documentation to comply with government requirements.

– What is the current state of Russia’s machinery arsenal?

It’s holding up since parts and consumables are being purchased to maintain it. Beyond this, the industry is expanding significantly, and not just in terms of opening new production facilities. Before the war, the degree of modernization among various Russian defense industry enterprises varied massively: some were poor, while others were wealthy. UEC Saturn, the manufacturer of aviation and rocket engines, could be regarded as a rich enterprise. At the beginning of the war, UEC was brilliantly equipped because it was sufficiently modernized. On the other hand, poorer manufacturers, who didn’t work for the defense industry, required extensive modernization. Therefore, when in February 2022 good fortune rained down upon them, replacing ancient Soviet machinery with new equipment became critical. This is the first trend.

The second trend is the creation of new industries that were previously nonexistent or almost nonexistent, such as drone manufacturing. Prior to the beginning of 2022, few Russian manufacturers operated in this sphere. Now, drone production has extended to new manufacturing facilities that require suitable machinery.

The third trend is the decentralization of military production. Vast sums of money have been poured into the defense industry, but the complex is often restricted in how these funds can be spent. State policy forces large military enterprises to subcontract orders to smaller companies, meaning some larger projects are transferred to small workshops, which are currently upgrading their machinery.

The armed forces, represented by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, admire the precision of foreign machinery. 

The army, represented by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, appreciates the precision of foreign machinery
The army, represented by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, appreciates the precision of foreign machinery
PHOTO: Press Service of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation / EPA / SCANPIX / LETA

— How can these deliveries be stopped?

I think we should focus less on the deliveries themselves as each time the manufacturer could simply claim, “We didn’t know anything.” Instead, all companies that sold machinery to Russia should be required to report on the equipment they supplied. In other words, to report on the machines’ monitoring functions and how they are being used. It’s also important to report on their connectivity to the internet, what software is installed on the machines, disclose details of agreements with contractors, and publish this information publicly. Of course, all this should happen under the threat of heavy fines and criminal prosecution.

— If the deliveries stop, how long could Russia continue the war without them?

Quite a long time. If Western imports stopped, there would likely be an increase in the importation of Chinese machinery with components from countries allied to the United States. Chinese manufacturing greatly depends on the supply of parts from developed countries, primarily Western Europe, Japan, and Taiwan. 

Most of the time the company knows everything. It can deny knowing which specific Russian military enterprise the equipment is being supplied to, but in reality, it knows everything.
Kamil Galeev, founder of Rhodus Intelligence,
on the responsibility of machine manufacturers

— Does the manufacturer carry responsibility for the importation of machinery into Russia?

I cannot give a precise answer without knowing the details of each transaction. But undoubtedly, most of the time the company knows everything. It can deny knowing which specific Russian military enterprise the equipment is being supplied to, but in reality, it knows everything. Sometimes, it even organizes everything itself.

In the modern world, where machines are equipped with software, connected to the internet, and internal networks, a huge number of manufacturers have real-time access to their equipment. Often, they withhold activation keys for the machines, meaning that after installing the machinery at the enterprise, the company must be contacted directly for operations to commence. A critical moment for Russia’s machinery arsenal will come if there is an attack on the software.

Translated by Sasha Molotkova