Modern agricultural and construction machinery contains technology that farmers and construction workers have come to rely on, none more so than those in Russia who have been deprived of these tools since shortly after the war started in February 2022.

The Washington Post reported as early as the middle of March 2022 that leading manufacturers of this equipment had stopped supplying Russian users or withdrew their local manufacturing facilities.

This included the makers of John Deere farming equipment, Caterpillar, a leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment closed its Russian manufacturing facilities, while Trimble, the manufacturer of GPS-based surveying equipment, stopped selling its products and services in Russia and Belarus.

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In response to an increasingly desperate demand for these products from Russia, British police say organized criminal gangs are stealing high-end machinery and equipment from farms and smuggling it through Eastern Europe.

“We know from where we’ve recovered equipment, where we are seeing the equipment, we have recovered but also some that’s being tracked before we can intercept it. It’s heading to Eastern Europe, without a doubt,” said Superintendent Andrew Huddleston, who leads the UK’s National Rural Crime Unit.

Reports of such thefts in the first half of 2023 have increased by more than 300 percent compared with the previous year, which itself had seen a sharp rise in previous years. 

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Spain said the package, including 155mm artillery shells or missiles for the Patriot system alongside other modern equipment, will arrive by the end of June.

Thieves are targeting equipment such as excavators and tractors fitted with high-value Global Positioning Systems (GPS) units, which allow farmers to map out fields and plant crops more efficiently.

Rebecca Davidson, a rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, a specialist rural insurance company, says that “Intelligence suggests these criminal gangs are watching farms and using drones in some cases to identify farm equipment fitted with GPS and return at night.”

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Stolen heavy farm equipment is taken out of the country on the back of trucks or in containers, while smaller items such as GPS units are often sent by courier or even parcel post.

In May, Dutch police intercepted a truck traveling on a cross-channel ferry, which was found to contain four stolen excavators.

Previously it was reported in May 2022 that Russian troops had raided stocks of agricultural equipment, worth millions of dollars, in areas of Ukraine that they had occupied. The equipment was dismantled and shipped back to Russia. This included John Deere harvesters and machinery made by the Swedish firm Vaderstad but, fortunately, the two firms were able to disable and track some of the machinery which, reportedly, was taken to areas close to the Chechen capital, Grozny.

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