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Russia imports hundreds of firearms from the EU monthly, bypassing sanctions

Despite a European Union ban on the sale of small arms to Russia — in place since 2014 — the wares of European gunsmiths continue to flow into the sanctioned country. As The Insider has discovered, in February 2024 alone Russian importers smuggled in nearly one thousand firearms. One of the smuggling channels was exposed thanks to branded adhesive tape.

Barret MRAD rifle

1,330 units per month

According to Russia’s Federal Accreditation Service, Russian companies filed documents for the import of 159,220 rounds of ammunition and 1,338 firearms from the EU, United States, Turkey, and Japan in February of this year. Among these, 957 firearms were imported in violation of sanctions (381 Turkish carbines were brought in legally).

A notable portion of the imports consists of hunting rifles produced by ATA Turqua (Turkey), Sabatti (Italy), and Bergara (USA). The largest batch included 500 Austrian Glock 17 Gen5 9mm pistols, widely used by police and special units worldwide.

Additionally, dozens of Finnish Sako S20 and Tikka T3x rifles, Portuguese Winchester XPR Strata from the Browning Viana factory, and Italian Sabatti Urban Sniper rifles were brought into Russia. Nearly all such rifles are chambered in .308 Winchester or .300 Winchester Magnum, meaning they can serve the needs of both civilian hunters and military forces. The dual-purpose design significantly streamlines their export from the country of manufacture.

Branded adhesive tape helps uncover smugglers

In February, The Insider, alongside the Italian publication IrpiMedia, unveiled an investigation into arms smuggling. It was centered on two groups of Italian companies directly tied to Russian importers of their goods. The first group included the firearms factory C.D. Europe S.r.l., which produces Breda and Marocchi hunting rifles. Until 2022, the company’s vice president, Oleg Benedichuk, held a majority stake in Marocchi's Russian importer, Italruzhyo LLC. The second group was the Luxembourg-based Beretta Holding, owned by an Italian gunsmith family. The conglomerate encompassed several European manufacturers of hunting and sniper rifles, including Benelli, Beretta, Beretta Benelli Iberica, Sako, Stoeger, and Tikka, along with ammunition makers Norma, Ruag Ammotec, and Sako. In Russia, firearms and ammunition produced under these brands were distributed by Russkiy Oryol LLC, a subsidiary of Beretta, along with Beretta-connected firms including Kolchuga LLC, Orel LLC, Smart Systems LLC, Test-Weapon LLC, and Fort LLC.

The Insider's investigation showed that, in addition to half a dozen weapons and ammunition manufacturers, the Beretta conglomerate also owns their Russian distributor, although the specific supply routes for evading sanctions remained unknown. However, branded adhesive tape has aided in the discovery of one such illicit channel.

On February 29, three weeks after The Insider’s investigation was released, a video advertisement promoting a new shipment of German-made Sauer 404 Stutzen rifles chambered in .308 Winchester caliber surfaced on the Telegram channel run by the arms dealer Oryol LLC. In the video's opening frames, viewers could spot a box wrapped in Armeria Piovanelli branded adhesive tape. Utilizing customs data, the investigators were able to piece together the missing links in the smuggling network.

A bolt-action rifle is a rifle which is reloaded manually by moving the bolt. The bolt, by moving along the axis of the barrel, closes and opens its channel, loading the cartridge into the chamber and extracting the spent casing.



Dragunov sniper rifle.

A box with Armeria Piovanelli branded adhesive tape at the Oryol store
A box with Armeria Piovanelli branded adhesive tape at the Oryol store

According to ImportGenius, in July 2023 the Italian firearms store owned by Armeria Piovanelli S.R.L. supplied six firearms to Olympic-Shymkent LLP in Kazakhstan, falsifying the country-of-origin data of a German-made Blaser R8 rifle chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum caliber by declaring it to be an Italian product. Kazakhstan and Russia are members of the Eurasian Economic Union's Customs Union, meaning that shipments between the two countries are not reflected in customs statistics. However, the Kazakhstani importer's shipment volumes can be assessed through tax reporting data: Olympic-Shymkent's tax payments increased from 99 million tenge ($219,000) in 2021, the year before the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, to 271 million ($602,000) in 2023, with its total revenue for 2023 amounting to 14.291 billion tenge ($31.73 million).

Regarding another rifle from this shipment, both its manufacturer and the Russian recipient have ties to the Beretta conglomerate. On July 27, 2023, Armeria Piovanelli S.R.L. sent a Beretta DT11 Anniversario double-barreled shotgun to the Kazakhstani company. Then, on January 23, 2024, the arms dealer Oryol released a promotional video advertising this shotgun, filmed directly in the store. The Luxembourg-based Beretta Holding is directly associated with both the beginning and end of this chain: the firearm factory is owned by Beretta Holding, while the Russian firm Oryol LLC is owned by Mikhail Khubutiya, Beretta's business partner in Russia.

A bolt-action rifle is a rifle which is reloaded manually by moving the bolt. The bolt, by moving along the axis of the barrel, closes and opens its channel, loading the cartridge into the chamber and extracting the spent casing.



Dragunov sniper rifle.

Beretta DT11 Anniversario
Beretta DT11 Anniversario

The Turkish Route

Shipments of rifles from another European manufacturer were traced through customs data. The Russian partner of the Italian firearms factory C.D. Europe is Attache LLC. On January 27, 2023, the company received a batch of Marocchi rifles weighing 425 kg, and on June 23, 2023, two batches of Breda and Marocchi rifles totaling 825 kg. In both cases, the consignor was the Turkish company Tepe Metal Teknolojileri San Ve Tic. Ltd. Sti. Considering that before the war, Attache LLC was an official partner of C.D. Europe and a direct recipient of its wares until 2022, there are grounds to believe that the Italian manufacturer is aware of the ultimate recipient of its products.

While shipments of Italian hunting rifles number in the hundreds, deliveries of Turkish ammunition to Russia total in the hundreds of tons. According to ImportGenius, from December 2022 to June 2023, Tepe Metal Teknolojileri San Ve Tic. dispatched 290.9 tons of hunting cartridges for smoothbore firearms produced by Anatolia Fisek Sanayi Tic. A.S. to Russia. The recipient in Russia was the Kostroma-based Okhota LLC, a major firearms importer. Okhota LLC, along with the Okhotaktiv hunting store chain, is part of the Chance group of companies owned by Russian businessman Andrey Shelestov.

Barrett Rifles for Russian Snipers

Alongside hunting rifles, one can also find more serious models of imported rifles. On February 12, Oryol LLC received a certificate for the import of two Barrett MRAD rifles chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum, with serial numbers EJ000813 and CJ000484.

The .338 LM caliber was developed in the 1980s for powerful long-range rounds intended for military snipers. It saw active use in Afghanistan and Iraq. In November 2009, British sniper Craig Harrison set the world record for a confirmed target hit in combat at a distance of 2,475 meters. At distances of up to 200-300 meters, .338 Lapua Magnum armor-piercing bullets penetrate almost any body armor, as well as obstacles including steel sheets (St3) up to 24 mm thick and concrete fences.

The Barrett MRAD, or Multi-Role Adaptive Design, is a bolt-action sniper rifle created by Barrett Firearms for the United States Special Operations Command (USS COCOM). In 2012, it was recognized by the National Rifle Association (NRA) as the best sniper rifle of the year and is currently in service with special units worldwide, including the elite Israeli counter-terrorism unit YAMAM, the Israel Defense Forces, Norwegian Special Forces, and special army units of New Zealand.

Russian pro-war Z-blogger Razvedos calls the Barrett rifle “the quintessence of advanced solutions.” The key feature of the .338 LM Barrett MRAD is its effective shooting range of 1500 meters, which is almost twice the range of the SVD (if you believe military bloggers, rather than the press releases of the Kalashnikov concern). The standard sniper rifle of the Russian army was developed in 1957-63. This explains why military bloggers regularly call for donations towards the acquisition of both imported rifles and firearms from private Russian gunsmiths like ORSIS, Bespoke Gun, and Lobaev Arms. Sniper duels on the frontlines take place at distances of over a kilometer, and at this range, the SVD is only capable of producing harassing fire.

Among other European and American weapons, the Barrett rifle has also found its way onto the frontlines. In July 2023, snipers from the Russian 155th Marine Brigade of the Pacific Fleet posed with a large-caliber Barrett M107 50 BMG sniper rifle — the purchase of which was funded by volunteer donations. Evidence of the rifle's receipt can be found, for instance, on the blog of Orenburg-based military enthusiast Konstantin Kuznetsov, who writes under the moniker Orengun.

A bolt-action rifle is a rifle which is reloaded manually by moving the bolt. The bolt, by moving along the axis of the barrel, closes and opens its channel, loading the cartridge into the chamber and extracting the spent casing.



Dragunov sniper rifle.

Marines with a Barrett M107 50 BMG sniper rifle
Marines with a Barrett M107 50 BMG sniper rifle

To streamline export to Russia, the Barrett MRAD was classified as a hunting rifle and imported by Oryol LLC. Both Oryol LLC and Kolchuga LLC, which offers the Barrett MRAD on its website for a price of 3,800,000 rubles ($41,000), are affiliated with arms tycoon Mikhail Khubutiya. Apart from owning numerous companies engaged in the import, certification, and distribution of firearms, Khubutiya also serves as a business partner of Beretta Holding. Entities linked to Khubutiya hold a 38% stake in Russia’s largest private weapons importer, LLC “Russian Eagle,” while Italian gun manufacturers hold 58%. Khubutiya's company accounted for roughly half of all ammunition and firearms imported into Russia in February: 125,820 rounds of ammunition and 576 firearms.

A bolt-action rifle is a rifle which is reloaded manually by moving the bolt. The bolt, by moving along the axis of the barrel, closes and opens its channel, loading the cartridge into the chamber and extracting the spent casing.



Dragunov sniper rifle.

Screenshot of the Kolchuga web page selling the Barret rifle
Screenshot of the Kolchuga web page selling the Barret rifle

As the February investigation by The Insider and IrpiMedia revealed, European-made weapons are still finding their way into Russia, with several recipients directly linked to the guns’ European manufacturers. This information was later corroborated by an independent investigation from the Finnish publication Helsingin Sanomat, which also reported on a new batch of 80 Finnish rifles that were delivered to Russia in February 2024. Additionally, in March, Czech journalists from Investigace.cz identified two companies in Turkey and the Czech Republic involved in supplying weapons to Russia.

EU Council Regulation (EU) No 833/2014, adopted after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, prohibits the supply of weapons and ammunition to Russia. However, neither legislative bans nor the onset of full-scale war have brought an end to these shipments. According to The Insider's estimates, Russian importers have brought in over fifteen thousand firearms and nine million rounds of ammunition since February 22, 2022. Even after the publication of the previous investigation, several large shipments of rifles, shotguns, and pistols were imported into Russia.

The Insider's editorial team thanks the OCCRP data department, IrpiMedia, and the Oryol store's social media manager for their assistance in gathering information for this piece.

A bolt-action rifle is a rifle which is reloaded manually by moving the bolt. The bolt, by moving along the axis of the barrel, closes and opens its channel, loading the cartridge into the chamber and extracting the spent casing.



Dragunov sniper rifle.

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