Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Western countries imposed unprecedented sanctions on the Kremlin. Much has been said about the impact of asset seizures, flight bans, and financial restrictions, but it is export controls that are the untold story of the West’s latest attempt to contain Russia. In a highly coordinated fashion, the United States and 37 other countries imposed a novel and complex regime of export controls against Russia. These controls severely restrict the export of strategic technologies, including semiconductors, microelectronics, navigation equipment, and aircraft components, to Russia—harking back to the highly successful Western export restrictions that helped isolate, contain, and ultimately defeat the Soviet Union.
Given time to work, export controls will play a crucial role in undermining Russia’s defense industry and eroding its military capabilities to wage the war. Russian manufacturing companies’ dependence on foreign components and machinery remains high, despite Moscow’s attempts to increase domestic self-sufficiency, such as the import substitution program it launched in 2015. With only limited domestic production of key technologies, Russia’s lifeline on the battlefield is to source these critical items from elsewhere. Export controls are thus a powerful tool to impede Russia’s ability to replenish its depleting stockpiles of weapons and ammunition.