A methodology for degrading the arms of the Russian federation

Think tank: RUSI

Author(s): Dr Jack Watling; Gary Somerville

June 26, 2024

This report from UK think tank RUSI examines a methodology for degrading the arms of the Russian federation.

Ukraine’s international partners have been seeking to curtail Russian defence production through the sanctioning of Russian-affiliated individuals and entities and the disruption of Russian sanctions circumvention and covert procurement of military components on the international market since 2014. This effort accelerated after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Despite a considerable amount of government effort, it has so far failed to have a material impact.

Failure to limit Russian defence production is not inevitable. Russia is highly dependent on access to raw materials, machine tooling and components for its weapons that it must source from abroad, often from NATO member states. Failure to adequately choke Russia’s access to critical foreign-origin materials and components to date has arisen from three primary causes: Governments have been overly reactive, rather than proactive, in disrupting Russian procurement networks. These efforts have therefore persistently been too slow. Governments have tried to conduct the relevant work at too high a classification, with the ability to scale actions to disrupt Russian procurement hindered by the challenges imposed on sharing time-sensitive targeting data between multiple law enforcement entities and the private sector, on which sanctions enforcement relies. Governments have also been slow to grant permission for interventions that collectively could have made a difference, because many officials and policymakers have maintained unrealistic expectations on how to measure effect.

Rather than preventing Russian weapons reaching the front, efforts can degrade the reliability of systems, reduce the volume produced, or increase the price, imposing difficult trade-off decisions on Russia’s military over the longer term.