Revealed: Russian oligarchs make a killing off multibillion-dollar wood trade with West

11.03.2022

New Earthsight analysis exposes Putin’s cronies are behind Russia’s largest logging firms and exporters of wood products

Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2016. Photo: Office of the Russian President

London, 11 March 2022 – Russian oligarchs linked to President Vladimir Putin are making a killing off a multibillion-dollar wood trade with Western firms.

A new Earthsight analysis today reveals the powerful industry barons behind the country’s largest logging companies and exporters of wood products. They include Russia’s richest man, a former member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich.

The list includes oligarchs hit with Western sanctions in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a multi-pronged military operation launched in part from Belarus.

Human rights and environmental organisations, led by activists in Ukraine, have urged further action to boycott Russia and Belarus’s lucrative wood export trade.

Russia, the world’s largest wood exporter, is a major supplier of wood and forest products to Europe, the US and Japan. The trade pales in comparison to that of oil and gas, but is still worth billions of dollars a year.

Heeding the calls of civil society groups in war-torn Ukraine and across Eastern Europe, Earthsight traced the Kremlin’s links to major Western retail chains and high-profile construction projects such as the London 2012 Olympic Stadium and Toronto’s Trump Tower.

Earthsight found that companies connected to Putin’s cronies are among the largest exporters of Russian wood to Western markets – even providing the packaging of Mars and KitKat sweets.

The research reveals that oligarch-linked firms control a combined area of forest in Russia as large as France. This land is a vital habitat for precious wildlife, home to Siberian tigers, lynx and brown bears.

But many of the Russian firms profiled in our list and their Western customers have also been exposed for illegal or destructive logging of high-value Russian forests, or buying illegal wood.

Despite this, nearly all of their logging operations were certified as legal and sustainable by the world’s leading schemes for ethical wood.

Earthsight also wrote to the 15 largest importers of Russian wood in the US and Europe. We asked them what they would do to help halt the flow of funds fuelling Russia’s military.

Only one responded: Mondi, the multinational paper giant, did not commit to stop buy wood from Russia.

But four of the importers identified by Earthsight have now committed to halting imports from the country: Finnish timber brands UPM, Stora Enso and Metsa, as well as IKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer.

As timber industry federations warn against the ‘extremely high’ reputational risks of trading blood timber, and sustainable wood schemes refuse to rubberstamp Russian forestry products, the pressure grows on Western corporations and governments to boycott business there.

Earthsight director Sam Lawson said: "If they continue to import and sell Russian timber and wood products, companies in Europe and the US will be shovelling money into the hands of oligarchs with past and present ties with Putin.

"Given the illegality and contribution to climate chaos we have documented, there was already a strong argument for halting the use of Russian wood. Now there is no excuse."

Notes to editors:

  • Earthsight is a UK-based non-profit organisation that uses in-depth investigations to expose environmental and social crime, injustice and the links to global consumption.
  • Earthsight’s analysis of the oligarchs behind Russia’s largest logging firms and exporters of wood products is found here.
  • An open letter from more than 120 NGOs including Earthsight calling for a boycott of Russian and Belarusian wood is found here.
  • For the list of the 15 largest importers of Russian wood in the US and Europe, please contact Earthsight using the email address provided below.

For more information, email taraganesh@earthsight.org.uk Tel: +447920053988

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