Two Americans and five Russian nationals were charged in a plot to smuggle military-grade equipment to Russia, according to an indictment unsealed yesterday by the Department of Justice.
The group faces 16 counts of conspiracy and other charges related to a global money laundering scheme in which the defendants “unlawfully purchased and exported highly sensitive and heavily regulated electronic components, some of which can be used in the development of nuclear and hypersonic weapons, quantum computing and other military applications,” the DoJ said.
The pair of Americans — Alexey Brayman from New Hampshire and Vadim Yermolenko from New Jersey — along with the five Russian individuals — Yevgeniy Grinin, Aleksey Ippolitov, Boris Livshits, Svetlana Skvortsova and Vadim Konoshchenok — each face a maximum of 30 years in prison if convicted.
The defendants were affiliated with two Moscow-based companies, operating under the direction of Russian intelligence services, which were sanctioned by U.S. authorities following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
As early as 2017, the firms operated a global network of shell companies and bank accounts, including in the U.S., to further the scheme and conceal the involvement of the Russian government. In violation of U.S. sanctions, the group repackaged and shipped items to intermediate locations across Europe and Asia before they were sent to the Russian military and defense sector.
The two U.S.-based smugglers, Brayman and Yermolenko, helped “fabricate shipping documents and invoices” to send the various items, including semiconductors and bullets, around the world, the DoJ said.
One of the Russian smugglers, Konoshchenok, a suspected Russian intelligence operative, was stopped at the Estonian border in October with 35 different types of semiconductors, electronic components and thousands of rounds of U.S.-made 6.5mm ammunition, which are used in military sniper rifles, according to the indictment.
In November, Konoshchenok was stopped again with thousands of U.S.-made rounds, including tactical ammunition and .338 military sniper rounds, the indictment added. Estonian authorities eventually searched a warehouse held in the name of Konoshchenok’s son and recovered approximately 375 pounds worth of ammunition, leading to the smuggler’s arrest.
The news of these charges comes amid reports from Reuters and other outlets that Russia has reportedly been burning through ammunition so quickly in its war against Ukraine that it is now turning to decades-old stockpiles.
This type of illegal conduct, however, is not anything new. Back in October, nearly a dozen people were charged in another scheme to send American military tech to Russia, some of which was found on the battlefield in Ukraine.
“The Department of Justice and our international partners will not tolerate criminal schemes to bolster the Russian military’s war efforts,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the release.
In a statement, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said, “By exposing the defendants’ smuggling of ammunition and transfer of sensitive U.S. technologies — from quantum computing to hypersonic weapons development — the Department of Justice is holding accountable those who are fueling Russia’s unlawful and unprovoked aggression in Ukraine.”
Three of the seven defendants are now in custody. Brayman, a lawful permanent resident, surrendered to the FBI yesterday and will be arraigned in New Hampshire, while Yermolenko, a U.S. citizen, will be arraigned in the Eastern District of New York. Konoshchenok was arrested by Estonian authorities on Dec. 6 and is now pending extradition to the U.S. The remaining defendants, however, are still at large.
Brayman’s attorney told the Associated Press that “his client has not been convicted of anything” and Yermolenko’s attorney told them she had no comment.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media