The “Serniya network” has been accused by the US Department of Justice of working on “highly sensitive and classified procurement activities” on behalf of the Russian spy agency FSB.
The EU companies’ sensitive technology managed to smuggle the Russian spy ring into Europe, even after a US-led crackdown on the secret smuggling ring.
The network – set up to source goods ranging from microchips to ammunition – has managed to acquire equipment in Germany and Finland despite US sanctions imposed in March 2022, according to a Financial Times investigation.
With the continued ability of the supply core to operate in Europe, efforts by Western governments to cut off the supply of critical technology to the Russian military-industrial complex have fallen on deaf ears.
The ‘Serniya network’ has been accused by the US Department of Justice of working on ‘highly sensitive and classified procurement activities’ on behalf of the Russian spy agency FSB, including for its scientific intelligence directorate and technological, commonly referred to as “Direction T”. . .
Other customers include the Kremlin’s foreign intelligence service, known as SVR, state defense group Rostec, the Russian Defense Ministry and Rosatom, the state-owned atomic energy company responsible for the arsenal. nuclear power in the country.
How does the Serniya network work?
The FT discovered that a Russian company, which is controlled by the same person who controls a Serniya network entity described by the United States as “involved in proliferation activities directed by Russian intelligence services”, continued to buy items from companies in the EU.
Company records, admission statements and interviews reveal that the Treydtuls trading house, registered at an address in an industrial area north of Moscow, has acquired materials worth $900,000 since the start of the war in Ukraine, including microchips and industrially produced items, mainly from the EU.
Treydtuls is registered at the same address as Robin Trade, which is part of the Serniya network, and is owned by the same person, a Russian national by the name of Alexey Zibyrov.
A Western official involved in the FT’s findings confirmed that Zibyrov, who has not been named or charged by US authorities, is considered a “person of interest” because of his links to the FSB.
Commercially available customs records, corroborated by import data shared with the FT by Maxim Mironov, an economics professor at IE business school in Madrid, show Robin Trade transported $12.2 million of goods to Russia in April 2022, before its revenues collapsed by 90% after the imposition of sanctions.
While other parts of the network halted purchasing activities following the sanctions, Treydtuls began importing equipment from a company in Germany.
Customs records show Treydtuls brought 22 tons of equipment from Germany to Russia, with a declared value of $554,000, by the end of 2022.
Customs records also show that Treydtuls simultaneously purchased $253,000 worth of integrated circuit boards from a small Singapore company.
The items were made by US semiconductor groups Analog Devices, Texas Instruments and Altera, as well as German company IC-Haus.
All of these companies have halted their exports to Russia, increasing the need for the Russian government and military agencies to source advanced electronics from third countries.
Treydtuls also purchased heavy-duty grinding and cutting discs for $3,700 from a Finnish company.
These items are banned by the UK government from being exported to Russia, North Korea and Iran, but not banned by the EU.
There is no indication that the European companies knew they were dealing with a company linked to Russian intelligence.
Securing advanced electronics and machine tools is vital for Russia to maintain its military-industrial complex.
A report by the Center for a New American Security last October said Russia was turning to “grey imports through the black market or through a chain of companies designed to hide the end user.”
These are similar to the smuggling programs of North Korea and Iran, which are also subject to extensive US sanctions.
Emails intercepted by US authorities and included in the DoJ indictment showed how, in August 2020, a supply network company received a renewal of its license from the FSB, which allowed it ” to carry out work related to the use of information which constitutes a state secret up to the top secret level”.
In December, the DoJ charged five Russian nationals linked to Serniya with conspiring to procure military-grade dual-use technology for Russian defense companies.
Among them was Vadim Konoshchenok, who is suspected of being an FSB colonel and was arrested by Estonian border guards after trying to cross into Russia with US-made electronic devices, microchips and ammunition. , according to the US indictment.
Some of the network’s smuggling activities involved technology that the US says could be used to develop hypersonic weapons.
Although Treydtuls has so far avoided Western sanctions, his multiple ties to the indicted FSB network were visible in business dealings prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, raising further questions about the how he was allowed to continue buying items within the EU.
Records show that in 2019 Treydtuls imported items from two UK-based companies, Majory LLP and Photon Pro LLP, registered at offices in the Shoreditch area of London.
Both were hit with US sanctions last year for acting as front companies in the FSB network.
One of Photon Pro’s two directors, according to his UK company records, is a Russian national named Yevgeniy Alexandrovich Grinin, who was charged by the United States last December but remains at large and wanted by the FBI.
Majory LLP was controlled, until its dissolution in February, by Andrey Georgiyevich Zakharov, whom the United States has also accused of running shell companies to import sensitive technology in defiance of Western sanctions.
Treydtuls is also registered at the same Moscow address as a technology company in which Zakharov is involved, NTS Wellink, according to documents filed by the Russian company.
Wellink has participated in Russian government tenders for highly sensitive state-controlled agencies, including the Federal Protective Service responsible for Putin’s personal security.