WASHINGTON – With the help of magnifying glasses, screwdrivers and a fine touch of a blow gun, two people from the investigative team tracking weapons, opened Russian ammunition and equipment that were seized throughout Ukraine.
During a week-long visit to Ukraine last month, investigators dismantled all the advanced Russian means they could get their hands on, such as small laser rangefinders and cruise missile guidance sections. Researchers invited by the Ukrainian security service for self-analysis of advanced Russian technology, found that almost all of it included parts of companies from the United States and the European Union: microchips, boards, motors, antennas and other equipment.
“Russia’s advanced weapons and communications systems have been built on Western chips,” said Damien Splitters, a investigator with Conflict Armament Research that detects and tracks weapons and ammunition. He added that Russian companies had been gaining access to “unreduced supplies” of Western technology for decades.
U.S. officials have long been proud of their country’s ability to supply technology and ammunition to the rest of the world. But after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the United States faced an unfortunate reality: the tools Russian forces use to wage war are often driven by U.S. innovation.
However, while technology created by American and European companies has been directed against Ukraine, the situation has also given the United States and its allies an important source of leverage against Russia. According to US and European officials, the United States and dozens of countries have used export bans to cut off supplies of advanced technology, preventing Russia from producing weapons to replace what was destroyed in the war.
On Thursday, the Biden administration announced further sanctions and restrictions against Russia and Belarus, adding 71 organizations to a government list that prevents them from buying advanced technology. This was also reported by the Ministry of Finance sanctions against a yacht management company that serves Russian oligarchs.
While some analysts are urging caution in drawing early conclusions, saying the measures will take time to take full effect, the Biden administration has called them a success. Ever since Western allies announced broad restrictions on exports of semiconductors, computers, lasers, telecommunications equipment and other goods in February, Russia has struggled to obtain microchips to replenish supplies of high-precision munitions, according to one U.S. official. most of the other officials interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence-based issues.
On Tuesday, Trade Minister Gina Raymond, who oversees export controls, said the shortage of chips cripples the Russian military, responding “without qualification yes.”
“US exports to Russia in those categories where we have control over exports, including semiconductors, have fallen by more than 90% since February 24,” she said. “So it’s crippling.”
Restrictions stop direct technological exports from the United States and dozens of partner countries to Russia. But they also go beyond the traditional wartime sanctions imposed by the U.S. government by imposing restrictions on certain high-tech goods manufactured anywhere in the world using U.S. hardware, software, or drawings. This means that countries that are not in a sanctions coalition with the United States and Europe must also comply with the rules or potentially face their own sanctions.
Russia has stopped publishing monthly trade data after the invasion, but customs data from its major trading partners show that supplies of major parts and components have fallen sharply. According to data collected by Matthew K. Klein, an economics researcher who tracks the effects of export controls, Russian imports of manufactured goods from the nine major economies for which data is available fell 51% in April from the September-September average. February.
Restrictions have made old bombings of tank factories and shipyards of past wars unnecessary, Klein writes.
“Democracy can repeat the effect of targeted bombings with the right set of sanctions precisely because the Russian military is dependent on imported equipment,” he said.
Russia is one of the world’s largest arms exporters, especially to India, but its industry is heavily dependent on imported materials. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2018 Russian sources provided only about half of the country’s military equipment and services, such as transport equipment, computers, optical equipment, machinery, manufactured metals and other goods. compiled by Klein.
The rest of the equipment and services used by Russia were imported, with about one-third coming from the United States, Europe, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and other partner governments, which together imposed sanctions on Moscow.
U.S. officials say that combined with many other sanctions that prohibit or hinder commercial relations, export controls have been very effective. They pointed to Russian tank factories firing workers and battling a shortage of parts. The U.S. government has also received reports that the Russian military is trying to find parts for satellites, avionics and night-vision goggles, officials said.
Technological constraints have hurt other Russian industries, US officials say. Degraded equipment for the oil and gas industry; maintenance of Caterpillar and John Deere tractors and heavy machinery stopped; and up to 70% of commercial aircraft of Russian airlines, which no longer receive spare parts and maintenance from Airbus and Boeing, have been shut down, officials say.
But some experts sounded cautious. Michael Coffman, director of Russian research at the CNA Research Institute in Arlington, Virginia, expressed skepticism about some allegations that export controls are forcing some tank factories and other defense companies in Russia to close.
“There was not much evidence to support reports of problems in Russia’s defense sector,” he said. He said it was too early in the war to expect significant supply chain problems in Russia’s defense industry, and the source of those early claims remains unclear.
Maria Snow, a visiting scientist at George Washington University who has studied sanctions against Russia, said the lack of critical technology and maintenance is likely to begin to be felt in Russian industry in the fall when companies run out of parts or materials or need them. equipment maintenance. She and other analysts said even the production of everyday goods, such as printer paper, would be affected; Russian companies bought dye to make the paper white, in Western companies.
“We expect that accidental failures in Russia’s production chains will occur more often,” Snow said. “The question is: are Russian companies able to find a replacement?”
U.S. officials say the Russian government and companies there have been looking for ways to circumvent control, but so far largely without success. The Biden administration has threatened to punish any company that helps Russia evade sanctions by denying it access to American technology.
In an interview last month, Raymond said the United States does not see a systematic circumvention of export controls by any country, including China, which joined Russia before and during the invasion of Ukraine. The companies have made independent decisions not to cooperate with Russia, despite the fact that the country is “very much trying to bypass” the global coalition of allies that have introduced export controls, Raymond said.
“The world knows how serious we and our allies are of prosecuting any violation,” she said. “There will be real consequences for any companies or countries that try to circumvent export controls.”
Chinese trade data also suggests that most companies adhere to restrictions. Although China continued to buy Russian energy, Chinese exports to the country fell sharply after the invasion.
But Splitters said the Russian military has used creative methods to circumvent past restrictions on technology imports – such as buying foreign products through front companies, third countries or civilian distributors – and could use the same methods to circumvent sanctions.
A splitter study found efforts by some actors to disguise the presence of Western technology in Russian equipment. During a trip to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Splitters and his colleague unscrewed three housings that contained advanced encrypted Azart radios that provide secure communication channels for Russian troops.
They found that the first two contained microchips with parts of their trademarks thoroughly erased, seemingly in an attempt to disguise their origins. But inside the third radio station was an identical chip that slipped by Russian censors, revealing that it was made by a company based in the United States. (Splitters said his group would not publish the names of the manufacturers until he sent each company a request for information asking how their goods ended up in the hands of the Russian military.)
Splitters said it was unclear who changed the labeling and when the chips were delivered to Russia, although he said the attempt to disguise their origins was intentional. In 2014, after the Russian invasion of Crimea, the United States imposed unilateral restrictions on the delivery of Russian high-tech items that could help their military capabilities.
“It was neatly erased, perhaps with a tool to remove only one marking line,” Splitters said. “Someone knew exactly what they were doing.”
It is unclear whether the recently imposed sanctions will lead to a fundamental reduction in such supplies to Moscow, he said, given that Russia has such a large stockpile of Western technology.
His team also analyzed the remains of three Russian reconnaissance drones called “Orlan”, “Tahion” and one previously unknown model, which Ukrainian officials called “Cartographer”. Inside Orlan, they found six separate parts of companies headquartered in the United States and one each from companies based in Switzerland and Japan. In two other drones, they retrieved parts from corporations in the United States as well as China, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden and Taiwan.
During the work, Splitters and his colleague asked a member of the Ukrainian security service about how they found the western parts that provide Russian weapons.
“It’s just business,” the officer replied.
“It’s big business, and people just sold chips and didn’t care or couldn’t know what they would end up being used for,” Splitters said of Western electronics. “I don’t think they will be able to know who will use them and for what purpose.”