According to a new study by environmental group EarthSight, the US imported at least $1.2 billion worth of Russian plywood in 2022, despite steeper tariffs on lumber from the nation’s lucrative timber industry. The study revealed that while tariffs helped reduce US imports of plywood from Russia by half from 2021 to 2022, Russia remains the second-largest foreign supplier of plywood to the US.
Although the US imposed sanctions and tariffs after Russia invaded Ukraine, targeting its economy, plywood remains one of the largest sectors of goods shipped directly from Russia and Belarus to the US. Plywood accounted for approximately half of all Russian consumer goods landing on US shores between November 2022 and January this year, according to an analysis of Russian export and US import records by EarthSight.
After the invasion, the US implemented a 50% tax on Russian and Belarusian plywood, while the EU and UK banned all Russian wood products. Nevertheless, EarthSight has called on the US to follow the EU and UK and ban Russian timber imports and sanction a Russian oligarch who owns a large stake in an exporting lumber mill.
Environmental groups are also concerned about whether timber felled from vast forests owned by the Russian military indirectly benefits its armed forces through plywood sales. The forests have produced more than one million cubic meters of timber in a year, including one in Irkutsk. However, since the start of the war, independent inspectors have left Russia, making it more difficult to know where the wood goes.
The higher-grade plywood imported from Russia and Belarus is usually made from Baltic or Russian birch and is primarily used in construction and furniture. Some are worried that buying products from Russia supports its war machine, with several Ukrainian forest conservationists among the war dead. Kyiv-based forest conservationist Yehor Hrynyk, of the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group, said that “when you buy something from Russia nowadays, you are basically supporting the Russian war machine.”
- With extracts from Andrew W. Lehren, senior editor for NBC News Investigations.