€40M of Conflict Timber Seized: How the US $2B Log Trade Fuels War

Russian oligarchs are cashing in on the United States lapsed sanctions against Russian timber imports!

Wed 03 Apr 24


German customs has seized a vessel carrying more than €40 million of timber from Russia bound for the US, in what amounts to the largest confiscation of conflict timber since the start of the Ukraine conflict.

As reported by ENGO Earthsight overnight, the 23,000-tonne Atlantic Navigator II ship was en route from St Petersburg, Russia, to the East Coast of the US where it developed a fault and was forced to dock at Rostock port on the German Baltic Coast.

The vessel is one of a fleet operated by a Canadian-owned shipping firm, Atlantic Ro-Ro Carriers (ARRC). It sails back and forth between Russia and the US, and its cargo is Russian birch plywood. According to US import records, the vessel offloaded 9399 cubic metres of such ply at US ports in October 2023 and 5876 cubic metres in December 2023.

Location of the vessel in Rostock port (Source: –

It is understood that the vessel that was halted was carrying a similar quantity – amounting to more than €40 million, covering more than 200 soccer fields!

Customs has placed a ‘hold’ on the ship due to an alleged violation of EU sanctions relating to the plywood on board, and whilst AARRC lawyers argued that the vessel’s cargo should be exempt because it only docked in Germany due to an emergency, authorities have rejected that argument, with ARRC set to appeal the ruling.

“This is the largest cross-border seizure of illegal wood I have ever come across”, said Earthsight’s Director, Sam Lawson, who has been studying the international trade in illegal timber for 25 years.

Why was the timber travelling from Russia to the US?

Just over two years after Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine, timber accounts for 50% of Russian exports entering the US – leading ENGOs to speculate the US reliance on lumber is inadvertently fueling the conflict.

It comes as Russia’s oligarchs, including Alexei Mordashov, Russia’s richest man, who stood side by side with Putin the day he launched a “full-scale invasion”, are profiting from plywood sold into the US – accounting for more than 10% of the seized timber.

Last month, a group of Ukraine’s leading non-government organisations pleaded with President Biden to include timber in the next round of sanctions.

The EU is looking to strengthen sanctions against Russia in the aftermath of the conflict – footage courtesy of @dwnews.

The United States and Australia have some of the softest compliance actions against Russian wood in the Western World, with the Biden administration opting not to follow the UK, EU and more than 130 global ENGOs in introducing a sanction on all timber imports after the Ukrainian Parliament asked all “friendly countries to sanction Russian timber.

It includes FSC and PEFC – the world’s largest private forest certification labels – which cancelled Russian and Belarussian certificates.

Since March 2022, more than US $1.98 billion worth of timber has been imported from Russia, with 10 of the country’s wealthiest oligarchs and closest allies to Putin profiteering from the United States’ lapsed sanctions.

Now, the ENGOs – which include the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group (UNCG), the ICO “Environment-People-Law” (EPL), the Center for Environmental Initiatives Ecoaction, the Bureau of Environmental Investigation and Ecosociety allege that the Russian military “directly controls an area of forest twice the size of New Jersey,” with the army profiting from the sale of timber, transported from Russia through Eurasia.

China is looking to establish its Middle Corridor with Azerbaijan key to its booming timber trade via Russia and Belarus (Photo Credit: Imaho / Xinhua Eisenbahnwaggons via Alamy)
More than 85% of Russian lumber and logs travel to China via Siberia railways. (Photo Credit: Imaho / Xinhua Eisenbahnwaggons via Alamy)

In a statement obtained by Wood Central, the group is is urging Brian Nelson, the US Department of Treasury Under Secretary for Counter Terrorism and Financial Crimes, to “consider adding Russian timber imports to the next round of US sanctions on Russia” to be announced “in the wake of the death of Alexey Navalny,” before listing out five compelling reasons in an open letter.

“Last month, our research shows, just one vessel offloaded 5809 cubic metres of Russian plywood at the US ports of Baltimore and Houston,” they said, adding that one of the largest suppliers on the ship was Russian plywood manufacturer Sveza, which is linked to Ms Mordashov.

They said, “Mordashov reduced his stake in the company to 49 per cent to evade those sanctions but continues to profit personally from Sveza’s plywood sales.”

Mr Nelson, who last year decided on sanctions against the Myanmar Junta, has the power to stop the trade under Executive Order 14068, with the group adding that “if further sanctions on Russia are considered, then a ban on imports of Russian timber is one of the most impactful remaining steps the US could take. We urge you to take it.”

image 54
A breakdown of the occupied and reoccupied areas with Ukrainian forest areas cross-over shaded in green. (Image Credit: L. Poliakova, May 2023)

Since February 24, 2022, US officials estimate that more than 200,000 Ukrainian and Russian-backed fighters have died in Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War 2; however, this number could be much higher “given Russia has been caught undercounting causalities.”

In August, Wood Central exclusively reported that more than 3.5 million hectares of Ukrainian forests have already been destroyed by military operations, with more than 5 million Ukrainians displaced by the war.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


Related Articles