Western sanctions have sharply curtailed Russia’s ability to replenish the munitions it is using in Ukraine, according to a new analysis from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, forcing Moscow to task its intelligence services with finding ways to evade restrictions and procure the critical technology and parts to sustain its war effort.
Russia has lost more than 6,000 pieces of equipment since the war began nearly eight months ago, the analysis obtained by CNN shows, with the country’s military struggling to acquire the microchips, engines and thermal imaging technology required to make new weapons.
Sweeping Western restrictions on exports to Russia have forced the country’s defense industrial facilities to periodically go idle. Two of the country’s largest domestic microelectronics manufacturers were forced to temporarily halt production because they weren’t able to secure necessary foreign components. And a shortage of bearings – a low-tech component – has undermined the production of tanks, aircraft, submarines and other military systems.
Even as early as May, only a few months into the war, the Russian defense industry found itself short of supplies and components for marine diesel engines, helicopter and aircraft parts and fire control systems, according to the analysis. And Russia has turned to Soviet-era tanks, removing them from storage to use in Ukraine.
The details were shared in a presentation with senior finance officials from nearly 30 nations Friday, who gathered at the Treasury Department for an update from Deputy US Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves and Deputy Director of National Intelligence Morgan Muir on the sanctions’ effectiveness in choking off Russia’s military industrial complex.
“They have to make critical choices about what they can do on the battlefield because they don’t have the tanks they need, they don’t have the equipment they need to make helicopters, they don’t have the semiconductors they need to launch precision missiles into Ukraine,” Adeyemo told CNN in an exclusive interview.
The meeting comes as Russia renews bombardments of civilian infrastructure, including in the capital Kyiv, a sign of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intent on terrorizing the Ukrainian population after months of embarrassing losses on the battlefield.
US President Joe Biden, who said this week the attacks were “beyond the pale,” has warned that nuclear threats emanating from Russia could result in catastrophic mistakes and has wondered aloud at what Putin’s “off ramp” in the war could be.
The US and its allies are hurriedly working to send more air defense systems to Ukraine, the latest in tens of billions of dollars of military assistance that’s flowed into the country over the past several months. The effort has turned Ukraine into a nation heavily armed with advanced weapons and the latest technology.
On a parallel track, however, has been the effort to deprive Russia of its own ability to make new, advanced weapons, a process that officials acknowledged in the spring would take months to yield results as the country’s military ran through its stocks.
The effort has been coordinated between the Treasury Department, Pentagon and US intelligence agencies, who each bring experience in the makeup of Russia’s critical supply chains.
“Russia is running out of troops, they’re running out of ammunition. They’re running out of tanks and other materials. And what we’re trying to do using sanctions and export controls to make it harder for them to reinforce their troops and to get the things they need to fight the war in Ukraine,” Adeyemo said.
At the onset of the war, Russia suffered heavy losses and struggled with some of its advanced weapons. When they did use precision guided munitions, Russia suffered failure rates as high as 60%, US officials have previously said.
Now, the US says Russia is “expending munitions at an unsustainable rate” and turning to Iran and North Korea for help, a sign of the shortfalls facing the country’s own domestic defense industry after the US and other nations banned the export of key technologies needed for advanced weaponry at the start of the war.
The presentation delivered Friday at the Treasury Department went further in spelling out how the export controls have been effective in limiting Russia’s ability to either purchase or make new weapons – and in providing allies with critical information to tighten their own sanctions efforts.
A goal of the meeting was “to provide information to them that many of them have never received before,” a senior Treasury official said beforehand.
The export restrictions have forced “reliance on contraband chips, work-arounds, and lower-quality imports (for example from China) undermining weapons systems,” the presentation reads, and have “exposed vulnerability in ‘chokepoint’ technologies (small and innocuous parts such as bearings and fasteners).”
The extent to which Beijing is assisting Russia in its war effort has been the subject of intense scrutiny in Washington. Biden warned Chinese President Xi Jinping in a telephone call earlier this year against providing military assistance to Moscow. The US has gone after Chinese companies and research institutes for supporting Russia’s military.
Still, Adeyemo said Beijing so far hasn’t been much help.
“China can’t provide Russia with what China doesn’t have,” he said. “And China doesn’t produce the most advanced semiconductors. Those are produced by our allies and partners. So Russia is searching for these things. The reason they’re using their intelligence services and front companies to try and get them is because the countries they would naturally turn to don’t have them.”
Russia has sought to skirt the Western restrictions on critical technology through vast networks of wealthy oligarchs and front companies, the new analysis says, targeting Europe and North America in particular in an effort to procure the required components.
The effort to prevent the sanctions evasion has led to a “continuing cat-and-mouse game to detect and take action against these channels.”