The Kremlin has denied any links to companies recently blacklisted by the U.S. for their alleged involvement in a complex scheme to smuggle sensitive technology from America to the Russian military and intelligence agencies.
"None of them supplied anything to us," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin told reporters today, according to Russia's RIA Novosti.
"This latest row -- thank the Americans -- is a slap in the face for those in Russia who think that foreigners will help us," he added, going on to say that Russia is committed to making its own advanced technology.
Federal officials announced Wednesday they had arrested Soviet-born Alexander Fishenko, who was accused of working in the U.S. as an agent of the Russian government and being at the center of a Russian "military procurement ring." The ring allegedly worked for years to trick U.S. customs agents into believing his company was shipping harmless goods -- like traffic light parts -- to Russia, rather than advanced microelectronics that could be used in military applications including radar and surveillance systems, weapons guidance systems or detonation triggers. The ring also allegedly provided microchips to a specialized electronics laboratory run by the FSB, Russia's powerful intelligence agency and successor to the KGB.
In addition to Fishenko, 10 other suspects working in the U.S. and in Russia were indicted for their alleged role in the scheme and 165 companies and people were added to the Department of Commerce's "Entity List," where they will face licensing restrictions for allegedly "facilitating" Fishenko's operation.
"As alleged in the indictment, the defendants spun an elaborate web of lies to evade the laws that protect our national security," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a Department of Justice release Wednesday. "But U.S. law enforcement detected, disrupted and dismantled the defendants' work."
Documents provided by the DOJ allege that Fishenko was the link between the Houston-based Arc Electronics, Inc., which he founded in 1998, and Apex Systems, L.L.C., of which he is a part owner, based in Moscow. To get the microelectronics from the U.S. and into the hands of Russian spies or military officers, Arc allegedly used other corporations as intermediaries and provided false information about what the parts were and where they were going.
At one point the firm went as far as claiming it was a "traffic light manufacturer," even though the company doesn't manufacture anything, the DOJ said in a release. In another instance, a suspect in the ring ordered a Russia-based company to make sure documents showed that maritime parts were for a fishing boat rather than for "anti-submarine ones." "Then we'll be able to start working," the suspect said, according to court documents.
In late 2011, the DOJ said several of the defendants tried to cover their tracks by destroying documents and deleting any references to the Russian military in emails.
"In this day and time, the ability of foreign countries to illegally acquire sensitive and sophisticated U.S. technology poses a significant threat to both the economic and national security of our nation," Houston FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Morris said. "While some countries may leverage our technology for financial gain, many countries hostile to the United States will seek to improve their defense capabilities and to modernize their weapons systems at the expense of U.S. taxpayers."
The charges come as U.S.-Russian relations dipped to a recent low after the Russian government expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development, accusing it of meddling in Russia's internal affairs. Russia has also voiced its displeasure with a set of human rights sanctions being pushed by Congress that would slap visa bans and asset freezes on several Russian officials allegedly tied to the death of whistle-blowing lawyer Sergey Magnitsky, who died in police custody in 2009.
Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that the "re-set" in relations between Moscow and Washington, which the Obama administration proposed shortly after taking office in 2009, could not last forever.
"If we talk about the 'reset,' it is clear that, using computer terminology, it cannot last forever. Otherwise it would not be a 'reset' but a program failure," Lavrov told Kommersant newspaper in an interview.