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Inert gases.. Russia’s trump card to undermine the Western electronics industry

On the morning of February 22, 2022, when Russia launched its last war against Ukraine, the world woke up to televised speech To Russian President Vladimir Putin, he vowed to Europe to rewrite history again and erase the years of shame that befell his country since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1993. In his speech, the Russian president revealed messages to the West with a clear political significance, including that Moscow did not enter Ukraine with the aim of Not only to prevent NATO’s incursion into its borders, but because Russia is simply defending itself while it considers it a war that has already been waged against it, not with missiles and tanks, but by targeting its own financial capabilities and military technology, and the words at that time were not understood until heavy movements on the ground explained it.

Within minutes of the speech, the Russian army penetrated into Ukrainian territory and launched an all-out attack with missiles, warplanes, and tanks. Among the several cities that were bombed, Odessa, located in the southwestern part of the country overlooking the Black Sea coast, was a particularly major target. . The importance of that city for the Russians was not only that it represents the economic lifeline for about 70% of Ukraine’s maritime trade, but its importance lies in the fact that it contains half of the world’s production Of neon used in the manufacture of electronic chips.

The power of American technology

heading US Congress To monitor 52 billion dollars (equivalent to approx Half of the purchases Moscow from the global chip market) to boost domestic production of semiconductors (Shutterstock)

Technology sector in Russia HudA major threat to Western sanctions since the emergence of early signs of war. Just a few days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Washington imposed an embargo on Russia and its ally, Belarus, targeting high-tech products, including semiconductors and communications systems used by the defense, aerospace and marine industries. The severity of the sanctions increased after the war, as the Russians were also denied access to the same products from Asia, especially Taiwan, Japan and South KoreaTherefore, Russia has not had access to the computer chips that power cars, smartphones, and even missiles and planes for a while.

This left no alternative for Russia but China, Moscow’s biggest ally in the recent period, from which it imports about 70% of its needsBut Beijing cannot make up for the lack of Western chips, because Chinese chips are low-tech, and can only be used in simple technological devices such as mobile phones, printing machines, and television screens, while the advanced chips used in the manufacture of missiles and aircraft come mostly from American companies and from Taiwan. . The other problem is that Chinese companies operating under US patents for semiconductors will be forced to request a license from the United States before transferring their products to Russia.

Roots back Russian fiasco In freedom from total dependence on the West in providing semiconductors to 1962, when two American engineers who worked on secret US defense projects, before they defected and spied for Russia, suggested turning the city of Zelenograd into a center for the development and manufacture of microelectronics. But the Soviet efforts were not crowned with success, as at the beginning cold War, the West used multilateral export controls to stem the flows of strategic materials and technology to the communist bloc in order to prevent it from gaining military superiority over the West. Since that moment, Russia has owned its own electronic industries, but it has always been lagging behind, unlike the race to reach space and nuclear weapons, for example, in which it sometimes outperformed the West.

And while the United States denied Russia access to sensitive technology, it let loose in the 1980s a programTo produce complete electronic circuits. Today, two decades later, it’s trending US Congress To monitor 52 billion dollars (equivalent to approx Half of the purchases Moscow from the global chip market) to boost domestic production of semiconductors, at a time when Russia’s largest semiconductor company, Omicron, is unable to develop these chips.

After eight months of war, Russia suffers from a severe technology deficit due to the sanctions, which means that the Russian military technology development program will suffer in the long run, and the unexpected length of the war has cost the Russian army, according to Western reports He stockpiled a large amount of ammunition, especially modern and accurate missiles, and thus began to rely increasingly on older stocks dating back to the Soviet era, as well as on the support of some allied countries such as Iran, which provided Russia with drones.

Russian circumvention

Russia stockpiled the microchips it was able to obtain and other technologies needed to build advanced missiles, and it also used intermediaries to buy American chips indirectly.
Russia stockpiled the microchips it was able to obtain and other technologies needed to build advanced missiles, and it also used intermediaries to buy American chips indirectly. (Shutterstock)

In 2014, the year in which Russia annexed Crimea, and Moscow was subjected to Western sanctions, Russia developed a special program aimed at reducing reliance on Western electronic chips in its military arsenal, including radars, submarines, and anti-missile defense systems. However, the program to replace defense procurement with one from a local industry has mostly stalled, according to what was reported by the agency.BloombergThe Russians reviewed their plan, which was prepared 10 months before the invasion of Ukraine, and found in it a severe failure in terms of providing their needs for electronic chips.

Russian failures in domestic chip production prompted the Russians to try subterfuge over the years of Western sanctions since 2014. According to Western officials who spoke to the newspaper,The New York TimesRussia stored the microchips it was able to obtain and other technologies needed to build advanced missiles, and it also used intermediaries to buy American chips indirectly. a report Issued by the “Conflict Armament Research” organization, an independent group based in Britain that identifies and tracks weapons and ammunition used in wars around the world, that a careful examination of the remnants of Russian equipment in Ukraine indicates Russia’s relative success in reaching semiconductors despite the blockade imposed on it.

An investigative investigation conducted by the agency revealedReutersMore details in this regard. While the six largest American companies for the manufacture of electronic chips were committed to the export ban imposed by Washington on Russia, the chips eventually found their way into the heart of the most advanced Russian missiles and weapons, and the exciting thing in the story is that more than 450 foreign-made electronic components were found. in Russian weapons seized in Ukraine, which indicates that Moscow acquired important technology from companies in the United States, Europe and Asia in the years leading up to the invasion and stored it until the need arose to use it.

However, the priority that Russia gave to its military performance came at the expense of many developed civilian sectors. Therefore, dropped Manufacturing of Russian cars this year, as well as the production of civil aircraft. Moreover, targeting the Russian military by US sanctions has taken a beating Moscow Industries Defensive in the long term despite circumventing the low amount of chips available to her in the short term. Because of the tightening of the screws, Russia was forced to use old Soviet electronic chips in making its weapons that it used for the war in Ukraine, which was revealed by the wreckage of the wrecked missiles. The war also carried another similar surprise regarding the examination of the Iranian drones used by Russia, and it was discovered that they also carry advanced Western chips that were smuggled in. And while the Western camp seeks to restrict the access of advanced semiconductors to Moscow, Russia actually has the means to threaten the industry.

Mother of minerals

One of the paradoxes of the semiconductor industry market, which is dominated by the United States and its allies, is that Russia and Ukraine are among most important Suppliers of neon and palladium gases, which are important components in the manufacture of electronic chips. Returning to the city of Odessa, which Putin chose specifically for its heavy bombing, the city is the heart of that industry in Ukraine. the scientist About 45% to 54% of the neon it needs is from Ukraine. In view of the shortages that this industry was exposed to due to the war between the two countries, the prolongation of the war will force the markets to search for an alternative, which is not easy given that neon is produced from the residues of the iron and steel industry processes in Russia and Ukraine, before Ukraine extracted and purified it. and export it.

Russia and Ukraine together supply more than half of the supply of noble gases to the world market (including neon), and constitute imports United State Of these minerals, about 90% of the total consumption of inert gases. And at a time when production was disrupted in Ukraine, Moscow was opening a plant for the production of pure neon gas, which will start production at the end of this year, in order to fill a global shortage of inert gases, and then expand its partial control over the export of a resource of strategic importance, and it may benefit from its position in Market to respond to US chip sanctions.

When Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, it soared neon quotes 600%, prompting the US government to Connection Directly with the chip makers and urging them to find alternative sources for these vital materials, in anticipation of Russia imposing restrictions on its gas exports to the United States, a warning that was repeated after the recent invasion. In 2016, several companies invested $250 million in a neon gas production facility in Texas, effectively diversifying supplies away from Russia.

However, the American fear that Russia would respond to Western sanctions by imposing restrictions on the export of gases needed for the production of electronic chips and semiconductors, quickly became a reality, following the announcement Russian government Last June, the export of neon, which constitutes 30% of the global consumption of inert gas, was stopped, which means that the world is now witnessing the harbingers of a crisis that may affect the production of chips if Western countries are unable to produce the alternative.

Until now, each party has strengths and weaknesses with regard to semiconductors. While the Russian army is actually at the mercy of the West in developing its arsenal and weapons, in contrast to the Soviet era, when it enjoyed great scientific and economic progress in the West on Earth and in space, the Russian army today relies on a base Obsolete scientific and industrial, and therefore the acquisition of Western chips over the past twenty years has become an important element for the development of its most powerful weapons. In turn, the West did not prepare for a moment when Russia would be excluded overnight from the global economy. Despite its lack of urgent need for Russian markets, what remains of the legacy of the Soviet industry in Russia and Ukraine together plays a pivotal role in providing materials for the electronics industry. As for the Russians being unable to provide their full needs of these chips, today they have a card to undermine their industry in the entire world, until the war finally ends.

Source: Aljazeera

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