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“Don’t worry about it!” Armenia tries to avoid sanctions for sending EU and US chips to Russia




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Armenia is trying to play down the importance of a surge in its imports of semiconductor chips and other electronic components from Europe and America. It’s estimated that nearly all the shipments are sent on to Russia for use in missiles and other weapons deployed in the war in Ukraine, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

Armenia cannot deny what it’s been caught doing but it’s certainly doing its best to persuade the European Union and United States that just because it’s helping Russia to evade sanctions, it shouldn’t in turn face secondary sanctions. Information first published in the New York Times has revealed an extraordinary increase in Armenian imports of electronic components, including eight particularly sensitive categories of semiconductor chips.

One document seen by the newspaper apparently came from the US Bureau of Industry and Security. It stated that between 2021 and 2022, Armenia’s imports of chips and microprocessors from the US shot up by 515%; from the EU it was 212%. The bureau estimated that nearly all the imports, 97% of them, were re-exported to Russia.

Sanctions against Russian imports of crucial electronic components have been particularly effective at undermining the country’s war effort against Ukraine; it has been reduced to trying to repurpose components ripped out of domestic appliances. As a close ally of Russia, Armenia is an unsurprising route for sanctions-busting but now it wants the US and EU to ignore what’s been going on.

Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan emerged from a cabinet meeting to give an explanation that missed the point entirely. Armenia is in the same customs and economic zone as Russia, meaning that there’s free movement of goods between the two countries, he told reporters. “Naturally, in order to dispel concern, we are talking with our American and European partners, explaining what is the basis of trade of various products”, he added.

Despite saying “there is no need to worry about it”, claiming that the scale of the trade is insignificant, the minister also argued that it was in Armenia’s economic interest. The government would work to avoid secondary sanctions against the companies involved, although that was the risk they were taking. He had to be mindful of Armenia’s obligations as a member of the EAEU, the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.

Armenia is a small country and has no common border with Russia or any other EAEU country. Other members have been careful to avoid permitting trade that might provoke secondary sanctions. (One member, Belarus, is under sanctions itself). So, despite the geographical obstacles, the roundabout route via Armenia has become attractive to sanctions-busters.


It’s highly unlikely that Mr Kerobyan’s arguments that Armenia is protecting its economic interests and respecting its obligations to Russia under the EAEU Treaty will impress the United States. European countries, which have taken a serious economic hit by ending their own trading arrangements with Russia, should be equally unsympathetic.

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