The Danish corporation Rockwool continues to retain its businesses in Russia out of fear that Putin’s regime will take over the technology and profit from the company’s four Russian factories.
Now, Danwatch and Ekstra Bladet can reveal that for years, Rockwool has earned millions by selling its products to the very same regime for use in various military projects.
An examination of contracts in the Russian government’s official procurement database shows that Rockwool’s Russian partners have, in at least 21 cases, supplied Rockwool products worth a total of 123 million rubles (approximately 11.5 million kroner) to shipyards carrying out large orders on behalf of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
All contracts were signed after Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, and while the brutal war in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk was raging.
In a contract from September 2017, for example, it appears that one of Rockwool’s Russian distributors, the company Marine Complex Systems LLC, has delivered Rockwool materials to the shipyard Severnaya Verf. Products that, according to the contract, were meant for the construction of the naval ship ‘Vsevolod Bobrov’.
The ship arrived in January 2022 to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the sea around Crimea – and the following months it played an active role in the bloody battle for the strategically important island of Zmeiny, also known as Snake Island, which Russia invaded on the first day of the 2022 invasion.
“The ship played a very active role in first transporting ammunition and military equipment to Zmeiny Island. Later, the ‘Vsevolod Bobrov’ received a Pantsir-S1 missile system on board to provide support against air attacks, so the ship was not only used for transportation but also in combat,” explains Ukrainian milirary analyst Alexander Kovalenko.
Images from the Crimean naval base in Sevastopol appears to show the Pantsir-S1 missile system on the deck of the ship around that time.
Tara Van Ho, one of the world’s leading experts in human rights and business at Essex Law School in England, has evaluated the documentation – and is particularly critical of Rockwool’s supply to the ship ‘Vsevolod Bobrov’.
“In 2017, Russia was responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law with the two illegal occupations of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Providing their military with equipment for ships, planes, and artillery all entails a risk that the products contribute to international crimes. And in this case with ‘Vsevolod Bobrov’, that risk has materialized,” she explains.
“It matters here whether Rockwool has supplied material for use in a predictable and serious violation of human rights. They have done so, and they should be held accountable”.
Rockwool’s products have also been used for other projects than those listed in the procurement database. Rockwool in Russia proudly states on social media that in 2007, they supplied materials for the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, and in 2015, they soundproofed the iconic headquarters of the Russian Ministry of Defense in Moscow.
Danwatch and Ekstra Bladet have asked Rockwool a series of questions about the work for the Ministry of Defense, as well as the specific navy projects between 2015 and 2020, including the ship ‘Vsevolod Bobrov’.
Rockwool refuses to participate in an interview. Instead, Michael Zarin, Communications Director of the Rockwool Group, has sent a written response, although he does not address the 21 recent navy projects carried out in the years after 2014:
“Rockwool does not have a customer relationship with the Russian government or other public entities. The examples cited are old and date back to 2007. The situation today is significantly different, and we fully respect the applicable sanctions.”
“In Russia, we no longer produce specific products for this segment,” he says without elaborating further on what that means.
(Read Michael Zarin’s full response at the bottom of the article).
Danwatch and Ekstra Bladet have also asked Rockwool about a number of images published by Vympel shipyard showing large quantities of Rockwool being used in the construction of four armed anti-sabotage ships that were handed over to the Russian navy in 2017.
The images have been publicly available on several Russian websites and news media. However, Rockwool does not want to comment on the four specific ships, whether they knew about the project and what they think about their products being used in the production of the ships. Instead, the communications director responds in a general manner:
“In Europe alone, we distribute more than 120 million packages of stone wool annually. Our products are widely available on both the Russian and Ukrainian markets through a wide range of distributors. Therefore, it is also impossible for us to know or have any form of control over who all the end-users are.”
Rockwool’s four factories in Russia are owned 100 percent by the Rockwool Group in Denmark. Because they are subsidiaries in Russia, they are subject to Russian law and as such not immediately covered by the EU sanctions that were imposed in 2014 after Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The sanctions prohibit, among other things, the sale of certain products to the Russian military.
However, the EU also states that there are exceptions. For example, employees with EU citizenship in a Russian subsidiary can be held personally responsible if they are involved in transactions in Russia that violate the sanctions. A parent company can also be held responsible if it actively approves transactions that violate the sanctions.
Tara Van Ho believes that the Danish authorities should investigate the matter with Rockwool to see if there may have been a breach of EU sanctions in connection with deliveries to the Russian military.
“In view of the seriousness of the situation, I think it is important that the public is assured whether Rockwool violated EU sanctions or not. I cannot assess that from the outside, and therefore Danish authorities should investigate it,” she says.