EAU CLAIRE, Wisconsin – More than a billion dollars worth of Russian “conflict timber” has been sold in the U.S. since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, and some of that plywood has been put up for sale by Menards, according to a report released Thursday.
“U.S. consumers will be horrified to discover they could be purchasing products bought from Russian oligarchs who are key allies of (Vladimir) Putin and whose cash helps prop up his regime,” said Sam Lawson, director of Earthsight, the London-based environmental group that published the report, in a statement.
More than 260,000 cubic meters of Russian “Baltic birch” plywood, with an estimated retail value of $1.2 billion, has landed in U.S. ports since the conflict, Earthsight says, citing customs records.
“The expensive hardwood panels are in high demand for construction and furniture making,” according to the report. “U.S. importers cannot be sure their products are not directly [fueling] the Russian war machine,” Earthsight says.
The report namesU.S. companies including International Paper, which Earthsight says earned $203 million in the 10 months following the invasion.
“The suspect plywood is being sold across the United States,” the report states, including by the retail home improvement company Menards, headquartered in Eau Claire.
Air fryer recall: 2 million Cosori air fryers sold at Target and Amazon recalled after fires
According to the report, the plywood was supplied from Russia to Menards by North American Plywood Corporation.
“Our records indicate that we have not purchased any plywood from North American Plywood Corporation since January 2022, which is over a year ago,” Jeff Abbott, spokesperson for Menards, told USA TODAY NETWORK – Wisconsin in a statement. “We take this very seriously and will launch a full and thorough investigation.”
Wood imports help fund Russia’s war in Ukraine, report says
Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. The next month, more than 120 nongovernmental organizations, including Earthsight, signed an open letter calling for Western sanctions on Russian wood imports, claiming the revenue helps fund Russia’s invasion, according to the report.
The European Union and United Kingdom imposed sanctions banning imports of wood and wood products from Russia, the report states.
Two leading ethical labels, the Forest Stewardship Council and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), also “blacklisted wood emanating from Russia and occupied Ukrainian territory,” Earthsight says. The PEFC and the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, one of the largest unions to represent woodworkers in the U.S., called it “conflict timber.”
The U.S., meanwhile, raised tariffs on Russian birch plywood, according to the report.
“The largest American firms involved in this trade, those under the most scrutiny from the press and investors, voluntarily ceased importing Russian plywood following the invasion,” the report states.
However, using shipment records, Earthsight says it identified 23 American companies that have continued to receive Russian plywood since the war began.
“Plywood is now one of the largest remaining trading relationships America has with Russia,” the report states, accounting for more than half of all Russian goods shipments landing on American shores between Nov. 10 and Jan. 21.
The U.S. has banned imports of Russian diamonds, vodka, gold and other products. Timber has not been added to the list.
Why was Menards in Earthsight’s report?
In August, two plywood shipments to the U.S. from the Russian timber firm Sveza were destined for North American Plywood Corporation (NAPC), “the third largest American buyer of Russian plywood in recent months,” according to the report.
“North American” brand plywood supplied by NAPC is being offered for sale in the U.S. by Menards, the report states. Earthsight included a screenshot, which the organization says was taken Monday, of the Menards website for the product “3/4 x 4 x 8 Baltic Birch Plywood.” In the “Description & Documents” section, the brand name is listed as “North American.”
‘I really messed up’: Florida executes death row inmate for first time in nearly four years
No brand name was listed in that section when a USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporter viewed the webpage Thursday afternoon.
According to Earthsight’s report, Sveza is linked to Alexei Mordashov, one of Russia’s wealthiest businessmen. The U.S. sanctioned Mordashov, and companies under his control, in June, along with other Russian oligarchs and elites close to Putin.
At the time, this included Sveza, the report states. Mordashov later transferred control of Sveza, but he still owns a 49% stake, according to Earthsight.
No additional shipments from Sveza have been made to the U.S. since August, the report states. That “does not necessarily mean the U.S. firms still importing plywood from Russia are not still unwittingly connected to the Mordashov-linked firm,” Earthsight says.
“Russian records we obtained show a number of Sveza’s logging subsidiaries indirectly send raw materials to other plywood manufacturers in Russia that are major suppliers to American companies,” the report states.