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ANALYSIS: How latest sanctions hit Moscow’s tech sector – and the maze of companies and people behind Russia’s cyber power

By ELIZABETH HEARST, Digital Editor  

RUSSIA’S CYBER and tech sectors have now come under the scope of sanctions from the United States.

And with the latest round of sanctions has come an insight into how Moscow’s tech sector is organised – and behind a maze of companies and individuals, who its main players are.

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announcement says it is aimed at imposing “severe costs” on Russia and its cyber war capabilities. 

Covered by the sanctions are 21 entities and 13 individuals who are “instrumental” to Russia’s “war machine.”

The latest sanctions package targets Russia’s largest chipmaker which exports more than 50% of Russia’s microelectronics. OFAC has also designated the Russian government as malicious cyber actors. 

A key target is Russia’s cyber capability. The Treasury says it will “hold Putin’s cyber actors accountable for destructive, disruptive or otherwise destabilising cyber activity targeting the United States and its allies and partners.”

OOO Serniya Engineering is one of those Kremlin favourites being sanctioned. The US claims the companys is at the “centre of a procurement network engaged in proliferation activities at the direction of Russian Intelligence Services.”

The network is believed to span across multiple countries to “obfuscate the Russian military and intelligence agency end-users that rely on critical western technology.” 

The firm is linked to OOO Sertal, as well as OOO Robin Treid, Majory LLP, Photon Pro LLP and Invention Bridge SL, which the Treasury say are “front companies utilised by Serniya to facilitate its procurement of key equipment” for the Russian government. 

The US says the companies are targeted for being “owned or controlled by, or having acted or purporting to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Government of Russia.” 

THE US Treasury Department has produced this graphic to illustrate the maze of coma

To evade sanctions, OFAC say Serniya and Sertal employed a “network of individuals to structure transactions and deceive counterparties.” These include the following individuals: 

Irina Viktorovna Nikolaeva, 

Yevgeniya Aleksandrovna Podgornova, 

Sergey Aleksandrovich Yershov, 

Anton Alekseevich Krugovov,

Andrey Georgiyevich Zakharov

Yevgeniy Aleksandrovich Grinin.

OFAC has also designated Sergey Aleksandrovich Yershov and Viacheslav Yuryevich Dubrovinskiy for being leaders, officials, senior executive officers, or members of the board of directors of Serniya. 

OFAC has also designated Tamara Aleksandrovna Topchi, Russia-based OOO Nauchno-Tekhnicheskii Tsentr Metrotek and OOO Pamkin Khaus, OOO Foton Pro, 

Evgeniya Vladimirovna Bernova (Bernova), and Malta-based Malberg Ltd. 

A number of tech firms have been sanctioned by OFAC, which aims to “further impede Russia’s access to western technology and the international financial system.”

These include AO NII-Vektor, a Saint Petersburg, Russia-based software and communications technology company, computer hardware company T-Platforms, Joint Stock Company Mikron, which is the largest Russian manufacturer and exporter of microelectronics, and the Molecular Electronics Research Institute. 

In addition to the latest sanctions, the US Treasury has also decided to enhance and expand its Russian sanctions authorities, and have determined that sanctions will apply to the aerospace, marine and electronics sectors of the Russian economy. 

OFAC says it has targeted firms in the Russian tech sector to “prevent it from evading unprecedented multilateral sanctions and procure western technology”, for Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine.”

Sanctions will be imposed on “any individual or entity determined to operate or have operated in any of those sectors and provides an expanded ability to swiftly impose additional economic costs on Russia for its war of choice in Ukraine.”

All property and interests in property of the designated persons that are in the US or in the possession of a US citizen are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. 

Any entities that are owned directly or indirectly, individually or in a group, and 50% or more are also blocked. Unless a specific licence is issued by OFAC, all transactions with US persons or within the US are blocked.

“In addition, financial institutions and other persons that engage in certain transactions or activities with the sanctioned entities and individuals may expose themselves to sanctions or be subject to an enforcement action,” warned OFAC. 

The new sanctions, say the US, are aimed at restricting Russia’s access to resources, and sectors of its economy that are essential to “supplying and financing the continued invasion of Ukraine.”

In a statement, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said: “Russia not only continues to violate the sovereignty of Ukraine with its unprovoked aggression but also has escalated its attacks striking civilians and population center. 

She added: “We will continue to target Putin’s war machine with sanctions from every angle, until this senseless war of choice is over.”

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