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An infantry soldier shows an unexploded shell in the morning fog, as the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade 'Edelveys' operate at the zero frontline with infantry holding fire at positions 100 meters below Russian positions, on Oct. 25,in the Bakhmut district of Ukraine.Getty Images/Getty Images

Russia is circumventing Canadian sanctions to arm its invasion of Ukraine by purchasing made-in-Canada electronic detonators through Kyrgyzstan, according to the World Liberty Congress, an alliance of pro-democracy activists from authoritarian countries.

The group, co-founded last year by Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, is sounding the alarm on the extent to which Russia is assembling new supply chains through Central and South Asian countries to feed its war machine.

These new logistics routes not only help Moscow replace the weapons, parts and resources it can no longer get from the West but also act as transshipment hubs to get around Western sanctions enacted after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February, 2022.

In a Nov. 9 paper, drawing on the research of the Brussels-headquartered Open Dialogue Foundation, World Liberty Congress details how military goods from gunpowder to lasers, semi-conductors and telescopic sights from Western and Asian countries are apparently being shipped through Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan to Russia, skirting sanctions that prevent direct sales to Moscow.

This list of goods includes electric detonators that can be used in the production of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.

Kyrgyzstan saw a major jump in imports in 2022, Open Dialogue Foundation’s research found. Imports of goods to Kyrgyzstan increased more than 72 per cent, from US$5.5-billion in 2021 to US$9.6-billion in 2022, it said. That same year exports from Kyrgyzstan to Russia increased by 245 per cent, from US$393-million to US$963-million.

Kyrgyzstan did not ship any electric detonators to Russia in 2021, but in 2022, the first year of Moscow’s full-scale assault on Ukraine, it shipped 115,920 detonators to Russian customers. Where did all these come from? In 2022, Kyrgyzstan imported 193,536 electric detonators from Canada, valued at US$3.7-million. “There is reason to believe that Kyrgyzstan has re-exported Canadian-made electric detonators to Russia,” the report said.

In a statement, members of the World Liberty Congress noted the Russian economy will grow 2.2 per cent this year despite sanctions, enabling Moscow to increase its military budget to US$100-billion in 2023, from US$86-billion in 2022, and to US$110-billion in 2024.

Mr. Kasparov said in an interview that Western governments must be more aggressive in rooting out the evasion of sanctions.

“Saying or repeating ‘We will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes’ means very little if anything,” he said.

The consequence of failure here is not merely sanctions evasion. These goods “end up in Russian missiles and Russian mines killing Ukrainians,” he said.

He noted that on May 25, members of the Eurasian Economic Forum – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia – met in Moscow to draw up blueprints for industrial co-operation in Central Asia to create new transport and trade routes that benefit the Russian economy and logistical hubs for its war footing.

The scale of the diversion even encompasses the basic ingredient for modern war: gunpowder. In 2022, Kazakhstan exported 11.5 tonnes of gunpowder to Russia, after exporting zero in 2021. At the same time, in 2022, according to the Open Dialogue Foundation research, Kazakhstan imported 17.8 tonnes of gunpowder from France. “There is reason to believe that Kazakhstani authorities re-exported French gunpowder to Russia,” the WLC paper said.

The Canadian government did not respond to requests for comment Monday. The Globe and Mail contacted both the Department of Global Affairs and Canada Border Services Agency but neither offered responses, citing a statutory holiday for the federal public service. “Global Affairs Canada is observing Remembrance Day,” spokeswoman Geneviève Tremblay said in a statement.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress, an advocacy group, said it was deeply concerned by the report and urged the federal government to probe the reported sanctions evasion. “We also continue to urge the Government of Canada to increase resources for the enforcement of existing sanctions,” said Alexandra Chyczij, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

She said the group, which represents the more than 1.4 million Canadians of Ukrainian origin, “consistently advocates for the substantial strengthening of Canadian sanctions policy regarding Russia – including a full trade embargo on Russia and the designation of Russia as a state supporter of terrorism.”

In September, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, an arm of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, published a report on suspected Russian sanctions evasion. It said Canada was eighth among the top 10 countries where companies were found to be engaged in Russia-related export control evasion.

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