Earthsight files complaints against 31 EU firms following confirmation of Russian wood use by their birch ply suppliers


  • An investigation by the European Commission has confirmed the circumvention of anti-dumping duties by firms buying plywood from Turkey and Kazakhstan.
  • The investigation found evidence of laundering of finished Russian plywood - a breach of EU sanctions put in place following the Ukraine invasion. 
  • Inspectors also confirmed Turkish and Kazakh firms are using Russian raw materials to make birch ply for sale in Europe. Though not covered by sanctions, these sales are in clear breach of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), a law meant to halt illegal wood use in Europe.
  • Today Earthsight, which submitted evidence to the EU’s investigation, has filed EUTR complaints pertaining to 31 firms across nine member states whose suppliers were confirmed by the EU to be using Russian raw materials.
  • Earthsight has found that during October to December 2023, firms in Poland, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania, Netherlands and Greece imported more than €43 million in birch plywood from the four suppliers implicated in the EU probe.
  • The EU’s investigation was completed the same month its Parliament adopted new rules to criminalise sanctions breaches.

Floating log rafts in Irkutsk province, Russia. © Earthsight

On March 1st, the EU released the findings of an eight-month investigation confirming the evasion of anti-dumping duties by companies selling birch plywood made in Russia or with Russian raw materials on the EU market. The findings, made available to stakeholders, noted that higher duties required to be paid on direct imports of these goods from November 2021 were being dodged by producers based in Kazakhstan and Turkey. Higher tariffs on birch ply imposed for Russia will now include imports of the product from these countries. The final EU decision detailing the extent of the new tariffs is expected to be released in a few weeks, and will form the basis of a new regulation thereafter.

Although the mandate of the investigation did not allow it to officially assess compliance with sanctions, much of what it concluded is taking place is also in clear breach of them. The EU banned the direct or indirect import of wood products manufactured in Russia following the Ukraine invasion in 2022, with the last legal shipments taking place in July that year. The European Commission investigation found evidence of plywood made in Russia being simply laundered and re-labelled as of Kazakh or Turkish origin, something which should be of interest to authorities tasked with enforcing EU sanctions, both at EU and Member State level.

The Commission investigators were not able to pin such blatant laundering on any particular supplier, but they did find firm evidence that four suppliers they investigated were using Russian raw materials – logs and veneer – to make the birch ply they are sending to the EU. That wouldn’t be a breach of sanctions, but it is in apparent breach of a Union law meant to prevent illegal timber imports - the European Union Timber Regulation [EUTR]. Along with a prohibition on importing illegal wood, companies are required under EUTR to conduct due diligence on their purchases before import to reduce to ‘negligible’ levels the risk of illegality. Soon after the Ukrainian invasion, an EU meeting of EUTR enforcement agencies from across the bloc concluded that given the withdrawal of international wood auditors from Russia, and the increasing practical challenges of conducting due diligence there, it was now ‘impossible’ for EU companies to import products made with Russian wood and still comply with the EUTR.

Yet Earthsight has now discovered that 31 companies, based in nine different EU member states, have been importing birch ply supplied by the four companies identified by the European Commission as using Russian raw materials. Together these EU firms imported 10,036 cubic metres of ply from them in just the last three months of 2023. The Commission’s own research, we found, has effectively shown that illegal ply with a retail value of some €14.4m is flooding into Europe from Turkey and Kazakhstan every month.

Earthsight has today filed formal complaints with the EUTR and customs authorities of the nine states - Poland, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania, Netherlands and Greece - for EUTR breaches.

Deceptive practises

The EU has measures in place to ensure countries which are not part of the European Union cannot ‘dump’ their products on the EU market. Imports are deemed ‘dumped’ when their export price to the EU is less than their normal value, considered an unfair trade practice because of its injurious effects on members of EU industry producing similar products. Following a complaint by a wood consortium from the EU, the Commission imposed ‘anti-dumping’ duties on EU imports of birch plywood from Russia in November 2021. The move resulted in a birch ply tariff hike of 15.8 per cent.

However, in 2023, the same consortium of industry actors demanded the EU investigate again - it said it had found evidence that Turkey and Kazakhstan were being used to flagrantly circumvent the higher tariffs the EU had imposed on birch plywood originating in Russia. Earthsight was accepted as an official stakeholder to this investigation and also provided supporting evidence to show this circumvention was occurring.

Our analysis of birch plywood imports to the EU from Kazakhstan, Turkey and China shows dramatic increases in volumes following the application of higher tariffs in November 2021 and the sanctions on wood passed a few months later. This is highly suggestive of laundering.

The EU’s investigation report contains further details: it notes that Russian birch plywood, logs and veneer only started to be imported by Kazakhstan for the first time in 2022.  Between July 2022 and June 2023, Kazakh imports of birch plywood from Russia increased seven-fold and imports of logs and veneer increased fourfold. Such suspicious increases were also noticed for Turkish imports of the same products. The report noted that birch plywood imports by Turkey from Russia tripled between 2021 and 2022 and that Turkish imports of veneer from Russia increased more than 10 times between 2019 and June 2023.

The report detailed that the volume of EU imports from both countries in 2022 and 2023 exceeded the production of these products in both countries. It surmised that these imports could therefore not all have true Kazakh or Turkish origin. Numerous emails and price offers that formed part of the evidence evaluated by the EU had, it said, also shown transshipment practices of Russian timber through Turkey and Kazakhstan.

Industry actors noted that the Commission’s investigation was ‘an important milestone in exposing the deceptive practices of some actors in the timber trade.’

The only suppliers which the Commission was able to investigate in detail were the four which volunteered to be inspected, in the hope that they might be granted exemptions to any punitive tariffs which are imposed. In every case, the inspectors found the companies to be using Russian birch raw materials. They concluded that the added value of processing these raw materials was insufficient to make them exempt from the anti-dumping tariffs.

The Turkish firm the EU inspected was found to be using only Russian raw materials. One of the Kazakh suppliers admitted to procuring up to 10 per cent from Russia, but EC inspectors uncovered evidence that the true figure was higher. Another Kazakh producer initially claimed not to be using any Russian wood, but during the verification visit to its factory this was found to be untrue. The final manufacturer inspected was found to be sourcing as much as 40 per cent of its birch raw materials from Russia. In every case, the factories using a mixture of Russian and non-Russian wood made no attempt to claim that there were any systems in place to ensure that the ply they were selling to the EU was made only with the latter.

Earthsight’s research shows that many more firms from Turkey and Kazakhstan are involved in the birch plywood trade to the EU than were investigated, and those other companies are even more suspect, since few even have manufacturing facilities. The manufacturers which the EC did inspect even admitted that middlemen traders in their countries were directly laundering Russian ply. Two Kazakh firms admitted to knowledge of certificates of origin for Kazakh ply being forged by other actors.

The Woodstock Consortium, whose complaint triggered the investigation, also noted that Kazakhstan and Turkey were not the only countries of concern in regards to Russian birch plywood. Previous investigations as well as Earthsight’s own research has shown that other countries, including China, should also be closely scrutinised.

Russia’s timber industry is controlled by a handful of ‘timber oligarchs’. See Earthsight’s 2022 report on Russia’s Timber Oligarchs for more details.

Russian birch plywood is highly valued by the industry for its durability and appearance. Earthsight’s investigations in the last two years have shown how Russia’s timber industry is ruled by oligarchs close to Putin, some of whom have also been sanctioned by the EU, and how Russian wood products could be stemming from illegal logging that is endangering precious forests in the country.

Earthsight has obtained and analysed shipment records for all the companies named by the EU as having used Russian ply in their production. We have discovered that birch plywood with a retail value of 43.2 million Euros was imported by 31 firms across nine EU Member States from October to December 2023 alone.

Non-compliant ply

The EU will now require retroactive payment of the same anti-dumping tariffs applied to imports of Russian ply on all birch plywood from Kazakhshtan and Turkey. The duties will need to be paid from August 2023 and for all future imports of birch ply from the two countries. However, given the high demand for this ply and the fact that EU imports of this coveted product continued to remain high even after tariffs were previously imposed on it, this is unlikely to be enough to stem the trade completely. Imports of birch ply from other countries have also yet to be examined for possible Russian nexus.

The EU’s investigation was completed the same month its Parliament approved a vital new draft law criminalising sanctions evasion and circumvention. The new rules seek to step up the EU’s hitherto poor enforcement response to its sanctions on Russia and other regimes. Once formally adopted by the Council they will cover banned goods imported from a third country and also require legal, financial and trade services professionals to report sanctions violations. 

According to industry sources, the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office may already be looking into possible customs fraud and wood sanctions violations. 

The European Union Timber Regulation, which is set to be subsumed by the EU Deforestation Regulation at the end of this year, was meant to penalise companies buying wood products linked to illegality and reduce problematic trade flows, but its implementation has been poor in the ten years since its inception. How the EUTR authorities in the nine EU countries importing this plywood respond to egregious cases such as these could be a sign of what to expect under the new, expanded regulation. 

Sam Lawson, Director of Earthsight, said, ‘’We handed evidence of illegal imports of Russian wood to officials on a platter today – with much of the evidence straight from the EU’s own report. We will be waiting to see if they investigate, and where necessary prosecute, the concerned firms to the fullest extent of the law.’’

Petro Testov, of Ukrainian group UNCG, which spearheaded calls for sanctions on Russian wood following the invasion, said, ‘’It is very disheartening to know that the EU is allowing its companies to enrich the Russian oligarchs controlling the plywood trade. I appeal to EUTR as well as sanctions officials to do everything in their power to hold them to account.’’


  • 1European Commission General Disclosure document dated March 1st 2024and made available to stakeholders. ‘R799– Proceeding concerning possible circumvention of the anti-dumping measures imposed by Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/1930 on imports of birch plywood originating in Russia, by imports of birch plywood consigned from Türkiye and Kazakhstan.’

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