Dependency Syndrome

Illicit Supply Diagram
This diagram shows how Russia’s Special Technology Centre (STC) uses intermediary companies to acquire Western technologies relevant to STC’s electronic warfare expertise.

Social media continues to be a mine of information on how Russia evades sanctions to acquire EW technologies that support her continued occupation of Ukrainian territory.

Late February brought the revelation that Keysight Technologies products are ending up in Russian hands. As an American company, Keysight Technologies is subject to US government restrictions regarding Russia. These restrictions forbid a wide array of technology exports to Russia and full details of the restrictions can be found here. There are no suggestions that the company is willingly supplying its products to Russia. As has happened with other US technology companies, Russia illicitly buys these products through intermediaries.

The customer

Dogged investigation by @Tataigami_UA published both on Twitter (called X by almost no one) and their own Substack page has revealed how Keysight’s products have ended up in Russian hands. The first link in the chain is a Russian company called the Special Technology Centre (STC) which is the customer. Based in St. Petersburg, northern Russia, one of STC’s products is the Orlan-10 Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The Orlan-10 forms a key part of the Russian Army’s Leer-3 electronic warfare system. STC is acquiring Keysight’s products despite being sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The OFAC administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions and is part of the US Department of the Treasury.

The intermediaries

How does STC acquire these products? @Tataigami_UA suggests they are sourced through intermediary companies. This process helps to obscure STC as the final recipient and hence avoid restrictions and sanctions. Three Russian companies chiefly Radioline, headquartered in Moscow, and Dipaul and RITM, both based in St. Petersburg, have offered to supply STC with Keysight’s products. The investigation cited Mikhail Mulminov, thought to be a citizen of St. Petersburg, as key to the operation. Mr. Mulminov worked as Keysight’s regional representative in the past, according to @Tataigami_UA. Another Russian company involved in the acquisition is Protech. Not much is known about this enterprise although evidence suggests it is also based in St. Petersburg.

The Russian companies purchasing on behalf of STC are probably doing so through third parties. In this case, it appears Keysight has been unlucky. A glance at the company’s website reveals that systems can be brought off-the-shelf with relative ease. Are products being purchased by companies in third countries not under US sanctions then sold overtly or covertly to the companies in Russia? It is impossible to say for certain and Keysight did not respond to Armada’s requests for information.

Tightening the noose

Nonetheless, this recent revelation underscores that Russian companies in the Electronic Warfare (EW) sector continue to source sophisticated electronics indirectly from Western suppliers with comparative ease. It is difficult combat this trade lest it affect companies in third countries making legitimate acquisitions. That Russian companies procure Western electronics for their EW systems shows how dependent they are on them. Clearly, the products they are acquiring are ones they cannot produce or procure equivalents of at home. Countries supporting Ukraine need to continue doubling down on their efforts to choke Russia’s dependence on advanced electronics.

OFAC Sanctions Notice for STC
As this notice from the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control notes, Russia’s Special Technology Centre is under sanction. STC is heavily involved in the supply of electronic warfare systems to the Russian military including the Leer-3 EW system used by the army.

by Dr. Thomas Withington