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EU Takes Aim At More Central Asian Firms For Aiding Russian War Effort In Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (third from right) meets with the five Central Asian presidents in Berlin on September 29.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (third from right) meets with the five Central Asian presidents in Berlin on September 29.

The European Union is looking to sanction more Central Asian companies that it says are aiding Russia's war effort in Ukraine, according to a document seen by RFE/RL.

The draft for the EU's 12th sanctions package looks to add 31 new entities to its ever-growing embargo list -- including two from Kazakhstan and one from Uzbekistan -- that it has been compiling since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

The proposal also looks to issue a ban on Russian diamonds, which Brussels has not yet enacted but Washington already approved.

The inclusion of firms based in Central Asia points to the growing role the region is playing as an intermediary working around Western sanctions meant to limit Moscow's ability to wage war on Ukraine.

Russian imports of dual-use goods from Central Asian firms have skyrocketed since the start of the war, including electronics and components produced by Western and Chinese companies, such as microchips and drones.

According to a draft memo seen by RFE/RL, the new measures look to limit loopholes around nonlethal but militarily useful equipment that "might contribute to the technological enhancement of Russia's defense and security sector." It adds that there is a need to target "certain other entities in third countries involved in the circumvention of trade restrictions" in order to curb Russia's war effort.

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (left) and French President Emmanuel Macron at a welcome ceremony before their talks in Astana on November 1
Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (left) and French President Emmanuel Macron at a welcome ceremony before their talks in Astana on November 1

The new Central Asian companies are the Kazakh-based Aspan Arba (Sky Chariot) and Da Group 22 as well as the Tashkent-based Mvizion.

Aspan Arba imported drones and allegedly sent them to the Russian company Skymec, aka Sky Mechanics, which in turn sold them to organizations inside the country linked to Russia's military-industrial complex.

According to an investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in May, the two companies have the same Russian national as an owner.

Kazakh trade data shows the imported drones are made by the Chinese-firm DJI, which makes up more than 90 percent of the global consumer drone market, according to DroneAnalyst.

Despite the company announcing measures to prevent the drones from appearing on Ukrainian battlefields, DJI drones have become a mainstay of the war for both sides. An RFE/RL report from October showed how the Chinese-made drones are being bought by pro-war groups in Russia, with Skymec -- which lists Russia's Interior Ministry, the Federal Protection Service, and the Emergency Situations Ministry as distribution clients on its website -- among them.

Da Group 22 shows up in Russian customs data as the exporter of thousands of microchips to Russia from Kazakhstan in the last year, and the OCCRP investigation linked the company to a Russian family with business dealings in Germany.

Mvizion was sanctioned in early November by the U.S. Commerce Department for sending "electronic components and computer software" to a sanctioned Russian firm linked to the country's war effort.

EU headquarters in Brussels
EU headquarters in Brussels

The set of proposed EU measures would add the three Central Asian-based companies to its June sanctions list that included entities from that region, when it added two Uzbek-based entities to its 11th sanctions package.

Those included two Tashkent-headquartered companies: Alfa Beta Creative and GFK Logistics Asia. Both companies were previously sanctioned by the Commerce Department in April, which said they were designed to "evade export controls" and aid in "acquiring or attempting to acquire U.S.-origin items in support of Russia's military and/or defense industrial base."

Beyond the three Central Asian-based firms, most of the proposed new entities on the draft list are registered in Russia, apart from the Singapore-based Deflog Technologies.

Central Asia's role in circumventing Western sanctions against Russia has been a target of the EU's recent dealings with the region's leaders.

In September, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz raised the issue during a visit to Berlin by Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev. French President Emmanuel Macron also pressed for a greater effort to crackdown on companies based in the region when he visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in early November.

The draft also looks to introduce tougher reporting requirements designed to prevent the sale of Russian oil, which violates sanctions and is then sold with falsified documents.

The proposal does not include any new Chinese companies.

Brussels originally included seven Chinese firms in its 11th sanctions package but removed four before passing it in June. The final version only included the Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Links, Tordan Industry, and Alpha Trading Investments. There had been speculation that the remaining four firms would be added to the new package, but Sinno Electronics, 3HC Semiconductors, Sigma Technology, and King-Pai Technology are not included on the draft.

EU member states will begin discussions on the new sanctions proposals this week and are looking to agree on the package before Christmas, according to an EU official familiar with the matter.

The entities included on the list seen by RFE/RL are not final and additional companies and persons could be added or removed before a final version is passed.

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    Reid Standish

    Reid Standish is an RFE/RL correspondent in Prague and author of the China In Eurasia briefing. He focuses on Chinese foreign policy in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and has reported extensively about China's Belt and Road Initiative and Beijing’s internment camps in Xinjiang. Prior to joining RFE/RL, Reid was an editor at Foreign Policy magazine and its Moscow correspondent. He has also written for The Atlantic and The Washington Post.