Russian railways are key conduit for strategic metals used in Ukrainian weapons

Marketa Horpeniakova, Published on 25/01/2023
Russian railways are key conduit for strategic metals used in Ukrainian weapons
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EU data show that Russia is at the center of a rail freight route that supplies Western arms manufacturers with a steady supply of the metals needed to produce the microchips, electronics, and ammunition used in modern weaponry.


Bloomberg has reported that important metals needed for the production of weapons that the EU is sending to Ukraine appear to be traveling on the enemy's railways. The war in Ukraine has shown how dependent the EU is on Russian railways and corridors for trade with China. The latest figures even show that rail lines in Russia remain a busy transport route and are vital for European industry. The volume of Chinese rare-earth metals shipped by train through Russia in the first nine months of last year climbed to 36,074 tonnes, more than double the amount shipped in all of 2021, according to European Union data analyzed by Bloomberg. The value of that trade increased by more than a quarter to €377 million through September.

"It is astonishing that despite all the sanctions, this supply chain still works. It underlines the importance of those rare earths and shows how much we depend on them,” commented Michael Wurmser, the founder of Norge Mining Ltd. Norge Mining has a property in Norway that includes large deposits of vanadium and titanium, two metals that are crucial to the defense industry and whose production is currently dominated by China and Russia.

China supplies more than 90% of the rare earth elements used in Europe. The latest EU data show that railway lines in Russia remain a busy transport route and a key part of Beijing's “Belt and Road" initiative. Rare earth from China, such as lanthanum, is widely used by Western weapons producers for armor-piercing ammunition. China accounts for most of Europe's demand for tungsten, the heavy metal used for anti-tank weapons produced by Thales Air Defence and Rheinmetall.

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