An in-depth investigation by The Insider and Taiwanese outlet The Reporter has revealed that Taiwan has become the primary source of precision metalworking machines for Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, despite Taipei’s public support for Kyiv.
Precision machine tools, also called Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine tools, are the backbone of Russian military production, as they enable advanced arms manufacturing such as missiles, aircraft, or radars. There is not a single Russian tank, plane, or APC that does not have parts made with foreign CNC machine tools.
According to Russian customs records analyzed by trade data firm NBD, between March and September 2023, Russia imported at least 193 Taiwanese-made machining centers worth a total of nearly $29 million, Russia’s Insider reported. Additionally, close to 80% of all Taiwanese machine tools shipped to Russia are being transshipped through third countries, especially Türkiye and China.
For example, Turkish transit point data shows that as of September, Taiwanese metalworking machines accounted for the largest share of machine tool imports being moved to Russia along the Turkish route. Overall, the total value of Taiwan’s machining exports to Türkiye jumped 45% between January and October 2023 compared to 2022, making Türkiye the top official destination market, Insider reported.
A Russian importer called “I Machine Technology” has imported the largest volume of Taiwanese machines. Data shows that from March to October 2023, I Machine procured over $17 million worth of Taiwanese machine tools, with 28 units shipped via Türkiye, 37 via China, and 16 directly from Taiwan.
I Machine Taiwan, run by You Ming-Che, has supplied most of the equipment. You was formerly a 30% stakeholder in I Machine Technology Russia until 2015. While he claims the two companies no longer cooperate directly, he admits maintaining a friendly relationship.
The ongoing illicit shipments are particularly concerning because of Russia’s reliance on such high-precision equipment for manufacturing military hardware, from fuses to turbine engine blades.
“The accuracy and productivity of turning and milling machines from China or Taiwan are similar,” said Dr. Mykola Skrypnyk, CEO of Abplanalp Ukraine. “However, in what concerns electric discharge and grinding machines, the quality, functionality and performance of the Taiwanese machines is higher compared to those of the Chinese ones.”
Despite the evasion, experts say sanctions have still increased costs for Russia. “The Taiwanese manufacturers realize that it is illegal to ship high-end equipment to Russia,” said Sergei Guriev, professor at Sciences Po Paris. “This implies that intermediaries that help circumvent the sanctions charge very high fees – which is good, as this deprives Putin’s war machine of resources.”
But Guriev and others say more must be done to cut off the smuggling networks. “We should keep tracing the intermediaries who ship the equipment to Russia and demand the US and EU impose sanctions on them,” Guriev stated.
Maria Shagina of the International Institute for Strategic Studies agreed: “The EU-US-UK shouldn’t shy away from sanctioning Turkish entities and procurement networks.”
Türkiye was noted as a prominent intermediary for imports of Western measuring equipment into Russia, another Insider investigation found.