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Sanctions have not stopped Russia from importing dozens of Austrian-made Steyr Mannlicher rifles and pistols, which are then used in Ukraine

During the two-plus years of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has imported at least 169 Austrian-made Steyr Mannlicher rifles and pistols. These weapons are actively being used by the Russian military in the war. The Insider has discovered that 11 sniper rifles were delivered to Russian companies as recently as February 2024. Austrian weapons continue to flow to Russia despite EU sanctions and Austria's stance of neutrality, which Vienna uses to justify its refusal to officially supply weapons to Ukraine.

Inspection of Steyr Mannlicher rifles in the 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade of Russia’s Pacific Fleet

RU

Russian snipers’ Austrian rifles

Since February 2024, The Insider has published several investigations into the smuggling of European and U.S.-manufactured small arms into Russia. Russian importers have received more than 15,000 units of weapons over the course of their country’s full-scale invasion. The firearms range from pistols and hunting rifles to sniper rifles. And while imported pistols and carbines are not so common at the front lines, Austrian Steyr Mannlicher rifles remain popular with snipers in both the Russian army and security forces.

Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) 7703622262.

Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) 7703727642

  • A Russian soldier's Steyr Mannlicher SSG 08
  • Russian paratrooper with Steyr Mannlicher SSG 08 from the unit that stormed Hostomel Airport near Kyiv

Steyr Mannlicher rifles are used by snipers of the Federal Protective Service (FSO), which is charged with guarding Vladimir Putin's security. They are also used by Russian mercenaries in Syria and Libya, and Russian naval infantry units fighting in Ukraine. The Insider was able to confirm, through public records, that Austrian rifles are used by snipers in at least five different brigades in official Russian army units:

The Austrian rifles are also used by:

Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) 7703622262.

Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) 7703727642

An FSO sniper with a Steyr Mannlicher SSG 08 rifle on the walls of the Moscow Kremlin, May 2024
An FSO sniper with a Steyr Mannlicher SSG 08 rifle on the walls of the Moscow Kremlin, May 2024
Photo: TASS

The most recent publication about the use of Steyr Mannlicher SSG rifles by Russian forces found by The Insider in open sources is dated April 30, 2024.

Steyr Mannlicher’s Russian affiliates

In June 2014, in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the European Union imposed export restrictions on arms deliveries. At the time, discussions were underway about the possibility of Steyr Mannlicher producing weapons in Russia under an Austrian license. This potential project was closed, but the supply of finished rifles did not stop. A company affiliated with the Austrian factory served as the Russian recipient of Steyr Mannlicher rifles.

The largest importer of these rifles is Arsenal Weapons Salon LLC (ООО Оружейный Салон «Арсенал»). According to customs data, this company received Steyr Mannlicher rifles directly from the manufacturer until 2018 and imported 19,838 kg of products while cooperation persisted. The company is owned by three entrepreneurs: Alexander Seleznev and Vladimir Cherevichny each own 30% of the company's capital, while Dmitry Startsev owns 40%. The latter was the CEO and co-owner of another Russian company, Steyr Mannlicher LLC (ООО «Штрайр Маннлихер»). The company was established in September 2010, liquidated in March 2014 and had an insignificant turnover. It should be noted that the second co-founder of this company, which owned 75% of the share capital, was Steyr Mannlicher Holding GmbH (Austria).

Although the formal ties between Steyr Mannlicher and Startsev were severed, in February 2024, Arsenal Weapons Salon LLC, owned by the Russian businessman, received a new batch of 11 Steyr Mannlicher rifles in the .338 Lapua Magnum caliber. As of May 14, Arsenal's website indicated the availability of more than 20 different Mannlicher models, ranging from hunting rifles to sniper rifles.

Two other companies that import weapons from the Austrian manufacturer are Hunter-Ru LLC (ООО «Хантер-Ру») and Test-Oruzhie LLC (ООО «Тест-Оружие»). The owner of Hunter-Ru is entrepreneur Vladimir Shchigorets. In March 2022, the company imported 20 Steyr Mannlicher SSG 08 rifles in .338 LM caliber. According to customs records, the logistics intermediary was the Cyprus-based Philippos Constantinieds Trading Co Ltd, which UK authorities suspect of supplying arms to North Korea. Test-Oruzhie is linked to Beretta Holding's Russian partner, arms baron Mikhail Khubutia. In July 2023, the firm delivered 65 Steyr A2 MF pistols in the 9mm caliber to Russia.

Steyr Mannlicher’s business history in Russia

The first evidence of the use of Austrian weapons by the Russian military dates back to 2011. At that time, Russia’s Airborne Forces reconnaissance units received close to two dozen Mannlicher rifles.

Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) 7703622262.

Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) 7703727642

A sniper of the 24th Separate Guards Special Forces Brigade with a Steyr-Mannlicher SSG 08 rifle at Shilovo Polygon, Novosibirsk Region, May 2019
A sniper of the 24th Separate Guards Special Forces Brigade with a Steyr-Mannlicher SSG 08 rifle at Shilovo Polygon, Novosibirsk Region, May 2019

The Russian army’s purchase of modern sniper rifles was long overdue. The most widely used sniper rifle in service with the Ministry of Defense, the SVD, was developed in 1957-1963. Its effective range is 600-700 meters, which is less than half that of modern .338 Lapua Magnum (1,750 meters) and .375 CheyTac rifles (2,286 meters).

Russian attempts to create a large caliber sniper rifle capable of operating at ranges beyond the reach of normal calibers led to the development of the ASVK (Army Large Caliber Sniper Rifle) in 2004. The project was not a success. Russia managed to create a heavy weapon — at 12.5 kg, the ASVK weighs more than twice as much as its European counterparts — but not an accurate one.

Russian Defense Ministry officers quoted on the social network “gunsforum” by former special forces and military blogger Alexander Arutyunov, known as Razvedos, are critical of the rifle's long-range accuracy, noting that “at 1,000 meters you can only hit a barn.”

Given their experience with the ASVK, Russian snipers were more than satisfied with the accuracy and compactness of the Austrian rifles, and their manufacturer was attracted by the opportunity to sell the weapon to one of the largest armies in Europe. Two years after the first deliveries were made, the head of Rostec State Corporation Sergey Chemezov and the chairman of the Russian-Austrian Business Council Vladimir Artyakov discussed the “development of military-technical cooperation” with the president of the Austrian Federal Chamber of Economy Christoph Leitl. In September 2013, Rostec and Steyr Mannlicher signed an agreement to produce small arms in Izhevsk. But due to the annexation of Crimea, this project was never realized. Still, deliveries of finished rifles did not stop — neither during the period of hybrid war in eastern Ukraine from 2014-2022 nor after the start of the full-scale invasion.

Lack of sanctions control

Since November 2023, it has been known that large-scale shipments of European small arms including Austrian Steyr Mannlicher and Glock rifles were still making their way to Russia. An investigation on this topic by the German publication Correctiv was covered by dozens of other publications. A series of articles on the smuggling of European weapons followed, naming specific participants in the supply chain. Finland's Helsingin Sanomat, Czechia’s Investigace, Italy's IrpiMedia, and The Insider all wrote about the issue.

So far, European authorities have reacted to these publications only once: in Germany, the public prosecutor's office in Ravensburg opened a preliminary investigation against the German rifle manufacturer Blaser. Such inaction raises serious questions. While it can be difficult to find intermediaries involved in the supply of microprocessors and semiconductors to Russia, there is no such problem in the case of weapons: the European Union's regulatory authorities have reliable information on the serial numbers of the barrels of most rifles and pistols that have ended up in Russia since February 2024.

Following the publication of The Insider's previous investigations into the smuggling of European small arms into Russia, Russia’s Federal Accreditation Service (Rosakkreditatsia) stopped publishing new certificates and declarations of conformity for a number of product groups.

Information as to whether shipments continued after February 2024 and in what volume will be available at a later date.

Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) 7703622262.

Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) 7703727642

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