BALTIMORE (AP) — On a scorching, humid East Coast day this summer time, a large container ship pulled into the Port of Baltimore loaded with sheets of plywood, aluminum rods and radioactive materials – all sourced from the fields, forests and factories of Russia.

President Joe Biden promised to “inflict ache” and deal “a crushing blow” on Vladimir Putin by way of commerce restrictions on commodities like vodka, diamonds and gasoline within the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine six months in the past. However lots of of different kinds of unsanctioned items value billions of {dollars}, together with these discovered on the ship sure for Baltimore from St. Petersburg, Russia, proceed to circulate into U.S. ports.

The Related Press discovered greater than 3,600 shipments of wooden, metals, rubber and different items have arrived at U.S. ports from Russia because it started launching missiles and airstrikes into its neighbor in February. That’s a big drop from the identical interval in 2021 when about 6,000 shipments arrived, however it nonetheless provides as much as greater than $1 billion value of commerce a month.

In actuality, nobody concerned truly anticipated commerce to tug to a halt after the invasion. Banning imports of sure objects would possible do extra hurt to these sectors within the U.S. than in Russia.

“Once we impose sanctions, it might disrupt international commerce. So our job is to consider which sanctions ship probably the most impression whereas additionally permitting international commerce to work,” Ambassador Jim O’Brien, who heads the State Division’s Workplace of Sanctions Coordination, instructed the AP.

Specialists say the worldwide financial system is so intertwined that sanctions should be restricted in scope to keep away from driving up costs in an already unstable market.

Additionally, U.S. sanctions don’t exist in a vacuum; layers of European Union and U.Ok bans lead to convoluted commerce guidelines that may be complicated to patrons, sellers and policymakers.

For instance, the Biden administration and the EU launched separate lists of Russian firms that can’t obtain exports, however not less than a type of firms — which provides the Russian army with metallic to make fighter jets at present dropping bombs in Ukraine –- remains to be promoting thousands and thousands of {dollars} of metallic to American and European companies, AP discovered.

Transport containers are stacked collectively on the Port of Baltimore, on Aug. 12, 2022, in Baltimore. Six months into the battle in Ukraine, American firms — together with federal contractors — proceed to purchase all the pieces from birch wooden flooring to weapons-grade titanium from main Russian firms.

Whereas some U.S. importers are sourcing various supplies elsewhere, others say they don’t have any alternative. Within the case of wooden imports, Russia’s dense birch forests create such arduous, sturdy timber that the majority American wood classroom furnishings, and far house flooring, is produced from it. Transport containers of Russian objects — groats, weightlifting sneakers, crypto mining gear, even pillows — arrive at U.S. ports virtually daily.

A breakdown of imported items from Russia reveals some objects are clearly authorized and even inspired by the Biden administration, just like the greater than 100 shipments of fertilizer which have arrived for the reason that invasion. Now-banned merchandise like Russian oil and gasoline continued to reach in U.S. ports lengthy after the announcement of sanctions because of “wind down” durations, permitting firms to finish present contracts.

In some circumstances, the origin of merchandise shipped out of Russian ports could be tough to discern. U.S. power firms are persevering with to import oil from Kazakhstan by way of Russian ports, although that oil is usually blended with Russian gasoline. Commerce specialists warn that Russian suppliers are unreliable, and opaque company buildings of most main Russian firms make it tough to find out whether or not they have ties to the federal government.

“It’s a basic rule: when you will have sanctions, you’ll have every kind of murky schemes and illicit commerce,” stated Russian economist Konstantin Sonin, who teaches on the College of Chicago. “Nonetheless, sanctions make sense as a result of although you can’t kill 100% of revenues, you’ll be able to scale back them.”

Many American firms are selecting to chop off Russian commerce. Coors beer, for instance, returned a cargo of hops to a state-owned Russian firm in Could as a part of a dedication to droop all enterprise within the nation, stated Molson Coors Beverage Co. spokeswoman Jennifer Martinez.

Russia and the U.S. have been by no means main buying and selling companions, and so sanctioning imports is just a really small slice of the retaliatory technique. Restrictions on exports from the U.S. –- of expertise particularly –- trigger extra harm to the Russian financial system, and sanctioning the Russian Central Financial institution has frozen Russia’s entry to roughly $600 billion in forex reserves held throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Nonetheless, sanctions carry a symbolic weight past the monetary hurt they may inflict, notably for American customers horrified by the battle.

Right here’s a have a look at a number of the items which have flowed between the 2 international locations:


Russia is a key exporter of metals like aluminum, metal and titanium; reducing off that commerce might dramatically drive up costs for Individuals already grappling with inflation, stated Morgan Stanley economist Jacob Nell.

“The essential concept with sanctions is that you just’re attempting to behave in a manner that causes extra ache to the opposite aspect and fewer ache to your self,” he stated.

A view of Rusal's Sayan Aluminum Plant on March 11, 2011 in Sayanogorsk in Eastern Siberia, Russia.
A view of Rusal’s Sayan Aluminum Plant on March 11, 2011 in Sayanogorsk in Jap Siberia, Russia.

Sasha Mordovets by way of Getty Photographs

Most American firms dealing in metals have longstanding relationships with Russian suppliers. Such commerce, notably of aluminum, has continued nearly uninterrupted for the reason that starting of the battle.

AP discovered greater than 900 shipments totaling greater than 264 million tons of metals since February. Russia is among the largest producers of unwrought aluminum outdoors of China and a big international exporter. However the battle has affected that international market as nicely.

“Like all producers,” stated Aluminum Affiliation spokesperson Matt Meenan, “we now have seen provide chain impacts by way of elevated power prices and different inflationary pressures which the invasion exacerbated.”

Russian aluminum leads to American automotive components and airplanes, soda cans and cables, ladders and photo voltaic racks. The most important U.S. purchaser at the beginning of 2022 was a subsidiary of Russian-owned international aluminum large Rusal. In April, Rusal America’s senior executives purchased the U.S.-based a part of the corporate and rebranded it as PerenniAL. In July alone, PerenniAL imported greater than 35,000 tons from Russia. The corporate didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Additionally, among the many non-public firms selecting to supply supplies from Russia are U.S. authorities contractors supported by federal tax {dollars}. Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace firm signed a federal contract for as much as $23.8 billion in 2021; it imported 20 tons of aluminum in June from Kamensk-Uralsky Metallurgical Works. In March, the U.S. banned exports to Kamensk-Uralsky as a result of it provides metals to the Russian army, however positioned no restrictions on imports. A Boeing consultant stated the corporate made the choice to finish commerce with Russia in March, and defined that the cargo that arrived in June had been bought 4 months earlier than.

One other metallic importer, Tirus US, is owned by Russian firm VSMPO-AVISMA, the world’s largest titanium producer. VSMPO additionally offers metallic to the Russian army to construct fighter jets. The corporate’s broad international footprint and particular product — titanium — underscores the challenges of isolating Russia from international commerce. Tirus US sells titanium to greater than 300 firms in 48 international locations, together with a variety of U.S. patrons, from jewellery makers to aerospace firms. VSMPO didn’t reply to requests for remark.


Russia’s huge forests are a number of the largest on this planet. After Canada, Russia is the second largest exporter of wooden, and has a number of the solely mills that may make sturdy, stable Baltic birch plywood, flooring used all through the U.S.

This 12 months, the Biden administration started imposing tariffs on Russian wooden exports, a transfer which infuriated Ronald Liberatori, a Nevada-based wooden vendor who sells Russian grown Baltic birch to all the main furnishings makers, building firms and flooring producers within the U.S.

“The issue right here is Russia is the one nation on this planet that makes this product,” he stated. “There’s no various supply.”

He stated that on prime of the tariff, he needed to put up an $800,000 bond to make sure he’d pay the tax, additional driving up costs.

“Who’s paying for this? Who? You and each different particular person in america,” he stated. “We’re so damned upset with what Biden has performed. This can be a authorities versus authorities problem.”

Liberatori stated decision-makers want to contemplate who’s going to be extra harm by tariffs earlier than imposing them.

One other wooden and paper importer instructed AP that whereas it stopped any new orders in February, it had huge quantities of lumber in Russia that already had been paid for; the ultimate cargo arrived within the U.S. in July.


On March 8, Biden introduced america is banning all imports of Russian oil, gasoline and power, “concentrating on the principle artery of Russia’s financial system.”

“Meaning Russian oil will now not be acceptable at U.S. ports, and the American individuals will deal one other highly effective blow to Putin’s battle machine,” he stated.

A view of the business tower Lakhta Centre, the headquarters of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 27, 2022. People across the world are confronted with higher fuel prices as the war in Ukraine and lagging output from producing nations drive prices higher.
A view of the enterprise tower Lakhta Centre, the headquarters of Russian gasoline monopoly Gazprom in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 27, 2022. Folks internationally are confronted with increased gasoline costs because the battle in Ukraine and lagging output from producing nations drive costs increased.

AP Photograph/Dmitri Lovetsky, File

Inside hours, there have been stories {that a} ship carrying 1 million barrels of Russian oil to the U.S. modified course to France. However loads of others pushed on.

That week, about one million barrels of Russian crude oil had arrived off the port of Philadelphia, sure for Delta Airways’ oil refinery Monroe Power. In the meantime, a tanker with about 75,000 barrels of Russian tar oil pulled into the port of Texas Metropolis, Texas, sure for Valero’s refineries after an extended north Atlantic crossing, in response to commerce data.

The shipments continued to Valero, ExxonMobil and others. ExxonMobil media supervisor Julie King instructed AP a July oil supply was of Kazakh origin and never topic to sanctions. She stated Exxon “helps the internationally coordinated efforts to carry Russia’s unprovoked assault to an finish, and are complying with all sanctions.”

Monroe spokesman Adam Gattuso stated the corporate has not acquired any extra Russian gasoline and doesn’t “anticipate doing so for the foreseeable future.” Valero didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Andrea Schlaepfer, a spokesperson for Dutch gasoline exporter Vitol, stated that each one of its oil and gasoline shipments since April 22 have been from Kazakhstan, the place pipelines and rail networks run from the landlocked nation’s oil fields and refineries to neighboring Russian ports.

For using its port infrastructure, moorings and charges, Russia makes about $10 million every year.

Schlaepfer stated U.S. Customs and Border Safety brokers assessment and confirm that its shipments coming into the U.S. don’t comprise Russian merchandise. However CBP didn’t reply repeated questions on the way it handles sanctions and bans on Russian items. A CBP reality sheet says it performs a “crucial position” in implementing prohibitions on imports, nevertheless a spokesman repeatedly referred The AP to the State and Treasury departments.


Up to now this 12 months, virtually 4,000 tons of Russian bullets have additionally arrived within the U.S., the place they have been distributed to gun retailers and ammo sellers. Some have been bought to U.S. patrons by Russian state-owned firms, whereas others got here from not less than one sanctioned oligarch. These shipments slowed considerably after April.

AP additionally tracked thousands and thousands of {dollars} value of shipments of radioactive uranium hexafluoride from Russian state-owned Tenex JSC, the world’s largest exporter of preliminary nuclear gasoline cycle merchandise, to Westinghouse Electrical Co. in South Carolina. Nuclear materials just isn’t sanctioned.

Westinghouse spokeswoman Cathy Mann stated that as a part of the nuclear gasoline manufacturing course of, their gasoline fabrication services obtain enriched uranium product and convert it into gasoline pellets. She stated Westinghouse doesn’t personal the uranium used to make gasoline. That materials belongs to clients who function nuclear energy vegetation all through the world.

“Consequently, our clients have the accountability to find out the place and from whom the supplies are procured – a few of which is sourced from Russia or enriched by a Russian firm,” she stated. “Westinghouse condemns Russia’s invasion and the ensuing hostility and lack of life.”

As well as, a number of the merchandise despatched to the U.S. from Russian ports proceed on to Mexico and Canada. Toyota car elements, for instance, arrived final month in New Orleans sure for a Mexican plant run by Toyota Tshusho, the automotive firm’s buying and selling arm.

Radioactive materials despatched from Russia to the U.S. is hauled north of the border to sterilize packaged medical provides used all through North America.

Old Moscow confectionery factory "Red October" on the waterfront Bersenevskaya, Moscow, Russia.
Previous Moscow confectionery manufacturing unit “Purple October” on the waterfront Bersenevskaya, Moscow, Russia.

Though imports of some meals objects, equivalent to seafood and vodka, have been restricted, the Treasury Division final month printed a reality sheet reiterating that agricultural commerce between the U.S. and Russia remains to be very a lot allowed.

The Purple October chocolate manufacturing unit sits simply throughout from the Kremlin in Moscow. Right this moment it’s a vacationer attraction with residences, shops and eating places. However the firm, Krasny Oktyabr, nonetheless makes and sells sweet and different conventional treats from a manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Russia.

In Brooklyn, New York, Grigoriy Katsura, on the U.S. workplaces of Krasnyi Oktyabr Inc, stated they proceed to import delectables, a style of childhood for Russian immigrants.

“In fact they’re used to it,” he stated.

And so each few weeks, the shipments arrive at their warehouse from Russia: buckwheat, dried fruit and their world-renowned chocolate.

AP Knowledge journalist Larry Fenn in New York contributed to this report. Mendoza reported from Santa Cruz, California.

Contact AP’s international investigative staff at

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