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Caterpillar and Zeppelin Exported Vehicles to Russia via Finland

Helsinki, Finland - February 22, 2024 - A recent investigation by Yle's Swedish-language investigative unit Spotlight has uncovered startling revelations regarding the export of heavy machinery from Finland to Russia amidst the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. 

In early 2022, as Russia initiated its invasion of Ukraine, hundreds of heavy construction vehicles were exported to Russia through various Finnish ports. Despite the escalating tensions and impending EU sanctions, which did not yet encompass the specific types of machinery being exported, the transactions continued unabated.

According to Russian customs data scrutinized by the Spotlight team, excavators, bulldozers, and front-end loaders were among the heavy machinery imported into Russia from Finnish ports, notably Kotka, Helsinki, and Hanko. Shockingly, a total of 270 heavy vehicles made their way into Russia via Finland in the year 2022 alone.

Subsequent investigations revealed that these vehicles were then transferred to the dealerships of Zeppelin International, a Swiss company, located in key Russian cities including St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Krasnodar, as well as in the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia from Ukraine.

Finnish Member of Parliament Pekka Toveri, a retired general and former director of Finnish Defence Intelligence, expressed grave concerns over the potential dual-use of such commercial equipment for military purposes by Russia. He emphasized that even civilian-market machinery like backhoes could be employed for activities ranging from construction to fortification along the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Collaborating with a Russian freelance journalist, the Spotlight team unearthed social media posts on Telegram showcasing the deployment of these heavy machines for military purposes in border areas, confirming the suspicions raised by Toveri.

Despite the EU's subsequent imposition of sanctions on heavy machinery exports to Russia in April 2022, there were significant loopholes that allowed certain types of machinery to evade the ban until February 2023. This included machinery equipped with tracked treads, exempted from the initial sanctions targeting machinery with rubber tires.

Both Caterpillar and its dealer Zeppelin International responded to inquiries regarding their exports to Russia, asserting compliance with all export control laws and sanctions. Caterpillar, while condemning Russia's actions and temporarily shutting down its factories in Russia, continued to export machinery to the country.

In light of these findings, it is imperative for international stakeholders to scrutinize and strengthen export control mechanisms to prevent the misuse of commercial equipment for military purposes in conflict zones.

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