Despite Western boycotts, Russia continues to import chips from Western suppliers and use them for weapons systems such as missiles. Business is mostly done through middlemen. Three chipmakers will examine how their chips crossed the border and ended up in Russian weapons. Other chipmakers say their chips were shipped before the Russians invaded Ukraine.
The parties examined the Russians’ importation of chips from Western suppliers and use of those electronic devices in weapons systems. They did so after receiving reports from the front in Ukraine that Russian missiles contained chips from Western suppliers. Chips were found in unexploded rockets.
Customs data also reviewed showed that third-party vendors had recently imported thousands of chips into Russia from chip manufacturers such as AMD, Analog Devices and Infineon. Those suppliers have now launched an internal investigation into the situation.
Infineon and Texas Instruments were already in production when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Intel says the shipments are internal company products shipped before the company shut down operations in Russia in April.
When asked about the use of their chips in Russian weapons systems, the companies say they abide by export restrictions and trade embargoes. Infineon told Reuters it was “deeply concerned” that its products were being used for purposes for which they were not intended. Intel responded to the news agency saying that it will not tolerate its products being used to violate human rights.
Intel and AMD
Key electronic components for modern weapons are microcontrollers, programmable chips and signal processors. The Russian arsenal includes products from American chipmakers such as Texas Instruments, Altera (part of Intel), Xilinx (owned by AMD) and Maxim Integrated Products (part of Analog Devices). Chips made by Cyprus Semiconductor, now owned by Germany’s Infineon, have also been found, Reuters reported.
“Moscow has a long history of smuggling”
According to Reuters, Russia’s reliance on Western electronics for its weapons systems has been known for years. Moscow has a long history of smuggling parts for military use from the United States. These include expensive specialized chips for satellites.
On the day Russia invaded Ukraine, the White House announced that the United States and its allies would impose “broad restrictions” on the supply of semiconductors, telecommunications, cryptographic security, lasers, sensors, navigation, and space and maritime technologies to Russia. Many non-military technology products are exempt from that exclusion.
The most advanced Western chips in Russian weapons have been subject to special export licenses for years. But research also shows that many of the weapons contain computer chips and components used for consumer electronics. These are readily available and not always subject to export restrictions.
Many tech companies have announced that they have stopped all exports to Russia. However, the reporting team found that the flow of Western computer parts from well-known manufacturers to Russia has not stopped. This trade takes place mainly through unauthorized intermediary suppliers, but there are also manufacturers who regularly import.
At the end of July, the European Union announced Exports of technical products to Russia are further restricted. Parts for consumer goods that can be used in the military will also be banned.
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