A Methodology for Degrading the Arms of the Russian Federation

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Since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has continued to access critical components from abroad, expanded the production of core weapons, and continued to increase the sophistication of some key capabilities.

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:

  1. Governments have been overly reactive, rather than proactive, in disrupting Russian procurement networks. These efforts have therefore persistently been too slow.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Addressing these shortcomings in efforts to counter Russian military production requires the collaboration of a coalition of contributing states. These states should form an intelligence fusion centre, premised on building a common recognised target picture of the Russian defence industry, and drawing on unclassified and declassified materials. This should form the basis for identifying key bottlenecks and opportunities for disruption, communicating these opportunities to the private sector, and then synchronising and sequencing enforcement action to maximise the disruptive effect on Russian industry.

Visibility among participating official bodies of the unclassified synchronisation matrix should also enable observer countries to synchronise unilateral covert actions to expand these effects and reach parts of the Russian industrial processes that sit beyond what is reachable by overt methods. A recognised common target picture and shared synchronisation matrix should also enable deconfliction of actions between Ukraine’s international partners.

The methodology guiding this effort should be to identify the key classes of Russian weapons, to identify each step in the process of supply, production and distribution, and to target it end to end, so that lags, shortages and loss of key capabilities afflict Russian defence production. The broad target categories that should be mapped and assessed include:

  • People: procurement agents, couriers, financiers, lawyers, engineers and machinists.
  • Tooling: machine tools, spare parts and software.
  • Components and materials: nitrocellulose, microelectronics, metals, fibres and fuels.
  • Enablers: revenue, ships, corporate structures, insurance mechanisms and warehousing.


Dr Jack Watling

Senior Research Fellow, Land Warfare

Military Sciences

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Gary Somerville

Research Fellow

Open Source Intelligence and Analysis (OSIA)

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