Russian chip makers face uncertainty as war drags on

Sanctions work, who knew?

The screw is tightening on Russian chip makers as America moves to further cut off semiconductor supplies to Vladimir Putin's regime.

The US last month, in response to the bloody invasion of Ukraine, issued sanctions banning the export of, among many other things, American semiconductor technologies to Russia.

Then this week, the US Department of Commerce warned Chinese companies to fall in line with these sanctions, or face secondary punishment. It's tough to design, develop, and manufacture modern processors and other integrated circuits without to some degree using American hardware and software – as Russia is now cut off from – and a lot of chips pass through China.

Russia's chip makers aren't major global players, and have been quiet about the impact of sanctions. Signs are emerging that these companies are buckling under the pressure, and facing an uncertain future.

For instance, Russian media reported that billionaire oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who has been sanctioned by the US, is trying to get rid of his stake in Yadro, which designs RISC-V processors through its subsidiaries. Yadro makes OpenPOWER-compatible servers, and also designs RISC-V chips via subsidiary Syntacore.

RISC-V International, the instruction set architecture's Switzerland-headquartered steering body, did not respond to a request for comment on how it was addressing sanctions placed on its Russian member companies. The organization has historically taken a neutral stance given the architecture's open-source nature. We note that Switzerland has supported some sanctions against Russia.

Another Russian chip house, Baikal Electronics, which designs SPARC and Arm-based chips, has big banner on its website with the title: "Under construction."

It isn't clear if Baikal has suspended operations or had its website compromised. The site was up as normal until earlier this week; the biz had not made a statement on the war. Baikal gets its chips made by TSMC, which has stopped shipments to Russia.

Russian computer company Mikron, which makes machines out of Baikal's Elbrus components, is also on the US Entity List, making it tough for the organization to do business with America. The two companies didn't respond to a request for comment.

The Semiconductor Industry Association has said it doesn't expect the export ban of semiconductors to Russia to impact the chip market in the long run. Russia made just less than 0.1 percent of global chip purchases, SIA said, citing numbers from the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS) organization.

Intel and AMD have also stopped shipping parts to Russia. Russia imported $1.25bn worth of integrated circuits in 2020, with China being the largest supplier at $246m, according to statistics maintained by a UN international trade database. Russia's IC exports totaled just $43m, with its largest partner being Belarus, which imported $11.4m worth of ICs from Russia. ®

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