Western sanctions on Russia continue to bite into the Russian economy affecting their performance in the war in Ukraine.  The Russian rail system is being starved of rolling stock because of a shortage of roller bearings for their axles. Some 10,000 railway cars were pulled offline because of a bearing shortage in August with another 20,000 expected to be sidelined in the next two months.  Repair facilities are unable to repair them because of the shortage.  This represents about 20-30% of Russian rail cars of all types.

Russian imports about half of the bearings it uses in heavy industry. In May, Russian truck manufacturers like the GAZ group, KAMAZ and UAZ had to stop their production because of these shortages. Premium bearing makers like SKF(Sweden), Schaeffler(Germany), NSK(US) and Timken(US) have either closed facilities in Russia and moved them elsewhere to countries like Poland or sold off their assets to private individuals inside Russia.

A man stands near a trainload of modified T-72 Russian tanks after their arrival in Gvardeyskoe railway station near the Crimean capital Simferopol, on March 31, 2014.  AFP PHOTO / OLGA MALTSEVA

Russia moves much of its freight by rail, especially heavy equipment like tanks, APCs, and artillery. It also moves coal by rail and this shortage will affect the ability of Russia to make promised deliveries of coal to China. One of the bearing types in short supply is Cassette-type bearings fitted to rail cars with large axial loads. These are mostly used for coal transportation in Russia.

This problem with rolling stock being out of service for a lack of roller bearings will have a ripple effect on Russian industries like transportation, military hardware, trucks and cars, communications, and the production of consumer goods.  Almost all heavy machinery used in manufacturing uses bearings of some kind.