Alexey Brayman seems to be living a quiet suburban life in Merrimack. But a federal indictment accuses Breiman of transporting technology for military weapons from his home in New Hampshire to Russia for use in an intelligence network called Serniya. The technology he allegedly shipped included semiconductors and oscilloscopes — common items that were also used in tanks, fighter jets and missiles in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
NHPR Morning host Rick Ganley chats with Boston Globe reporter Hanna Krueger, who Brehman’s involvement is being reported In the international smuggling ring. The following is a transcript of their conversation.
Rick Ganley: Hannah, this story feels like something out of a spy novel. Tell us more about Alexey Brayman and his involvement with this smuggling ring. What is his function?
Hannah Kruger: Alexey Brayman is a man in his 30s who lives just outside Concord, New Hampshire. [He had a] suburban home [with] Blowing up Santa outside, SUVs with stroller logos—a seemingly suburban way of life. But Alexey often has stacks of cardboard boxes on his front porch. Neighbors took notice. They said it was an unusually high number of cardboard boxes filled with stuff no one knew about. But the indictment shows that the devices are actually filled with highly sensitive electronics that are often used to build the advanced missiles and weapons systems Russia needs to wage war in Ukraine. So he’s a stint in a very large arms-smuggling and technology-smuggling network that Russia uses to sustain its war machine.
Rick Ganley: What exactly were these materials that Breiman was smuggling?
Hannah Kruger: So I would say the biggest hit is something called a semiconductor, which is pretty much a computer chip. They exist in iPhones and PlayStations, but they’re also required to run missiles, tanks, and fighter jets. When it comes to missiles, they allow for geolocation and specific targeting, which is very important in this particular war in Ukraine, as they increasingly target power grids and some civilian infrastructure.
Rick Ganley: So these are just basic electronic components that you can find in almost any electronic device. But Russia has been trying to get those and get those circuits because they lack them in Russia or they can’t have them because of sanctions. What is the reason they cannot obtain them legally?
Hannah Kruger: So there are a lot of tough sanctions against them, and obviously, with the war in Ukraine this year, those sanctions are only going to increase. Russia has long relied on Western countries to get these electronics from there. Although they are ubiquitous, they are difficult to manufacture. And Russia is not a country capable of making its own. The United States is one of the few countries that can manufacture them. Since the Cold War, Russia has relied on the US and other Western countries for these things. The stockpiles they were able to build in the post-Cold War years have been depleted as sanctions have tightened. Now they need to find new ways to get these things to make ends meet.
Rick Ganley: You reported in the Globe that this network is part of the Russian intelligence network that is tasked with acquiring all this Western technology. Tell me more about this network, do we know how big it is?
Hannah Kruger: I don’t think we know how big it is now. But it was this network called Serniya Networks, which, at face value, was an engineering firm based in Moscow. But it is actually a global network of so-called procurement agents, people with ties to Russia who are tasked with acquiring Western microelectronics. We don’t know how many. The indictment identifies seven defendants who were implicated in the matter. It just shows a network from top to bottom. You’d have a Russia-based entity like Rosatom or even Russian intelligence. They’d say, “I want one semiconductor. I’d like 45 semiconductors.” Then someone would contact an agent in the United States, and that agent would go about trying to secure those shipments. They will say they obtained the documents on behalf of a front company based in the United States. And then in this particular case, the front company was actually handled at the home of Alexey Brayman in New Hampshire. So those items will appear there. Alexey would allegedly repackage them and send them to countries such as Estonia and Germany, or have another person transport them across the border to Russia.
Rick Ganley: It has been almost a year since Russia invaded Ukraine. How does Russia use this smuggling technology to sustain its war?
Hannah Kruger: Well, I mean, it’s necessary to maintain the systems necessary for their fighters. It is necessary to guide those missiles that we see landing on the grid and throwing Kyiv into darkness this winter. They’re essential to the ballistic missiles that hit bridges that block cities, and really everything that makes up modern warfare in this day and age.
Rick Ganley: Do we know what the effect of destroying this network, or at least weakening this network of the United States, would be on Russia’s military strength?
Hannah Kruger: It’s hard to say at the moment because we don’t know if this is the tip of the iceberg or the central node of this network. We don’t know how many networks like Serniya exist. I’ve met experts who know this well, and they say it’s hard to know where this fits in the grand scheme of things. But every network that is shut down or compromised in some way is critical because it means hundreds of thousands of components can’t reach Russia. When they are so dependent on these technologies, any disruption can really make a difference. This is important because it means some weapons may not be craftable this month or this year. And at this time, when Russia’s performance in this war is not as good as expected, this may make a difference.
Of course I would say that three defendants were arrested in this case but that does mean four are still at large and it shows that the network does rely on lower figures on the totem pole like Alexei but in this case the A guy named Vadim was based in Estonia and his mission was to ship things to Russia. So while these guys are sort of left out of the network, the main players in this whole operation are still in Russia, and may be finding new ways to continue using this war machine. So it’s going to be an ongoing thing. Experts describe it as a game of whack-a-mole. It’s been that way for the past 50 years, and it’s going to be for a long time to come.
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