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Story Publication logo July 21, 2023

Parts Made by U.S. Companies Are Used To Build Russian Cruise Missiles


Ukraine refugees flee to Hungary

The Pulitzer Center is partnering with "PBS NewsHour" to bring viewers the kind of reporting...

Video courtesy of PBS NewsHour. Ukraine, 2023.

Ukraine suffered another barrage of Russian missile strikes on Friday, part of a deadly summer of attacks. But as NewsHour special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky discovered, many of the Russian-made cruise missiles wouldn’t be able to find their targets without the help of American companies. His investigation was supported by the Pulitzer Center.

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Read the Full Transcript

Geoff Bennett: Again today, Ukraine suffered a barrage of Russian missile strikes, part of a deadly summer of attacks.

But as "NewsHour" special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky has discovered, many of the Russian-made cruise missiles wouldn't be able to find their targets without the help of American companies.

His investigation is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

Simon Ostrovsky: In a village about 25 miles north of the Western Ukrainian city of Khmelnytskyi, Ukrainian military officers show us the remains of a recent Russian missile strike against their country.

It's a scene that's become all too familiar in over 500 days of Russia's full-scale war. This guided Kh-101 missile didn't hurt anyone. It was shot down by one of the Western air defense systems donated to Ukraine in recent months.

These officers' job is to collect the fragments and bring them back to the capital for analysis. They have granted "NewsHour" unprecedented access to film their work, so we can find out for ourselves where the components that help these missiles find their targets come from.

So this looks like it might be part of the flight control unit. This will be really interesting to get a closer look at once it's brought back to the laboratory and cleaned up a little bit, because it's motherboards like these that we often find Western-made microchips in.

This is Iryna Nikitska. She runs a hospital lab on the other side of Ukraine in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's hometown of Kryvyi Rih. Last month, she lost the thing most dear to her in a Russian missile strike.

Iryna Nikitska, mother (through translator): I had an only daughter. She lived. I raised her. I educated her. They took away my meaning of life.

Simon Ostrovsky: On June 12, a barrage of missiles, including Kh-101s, rained down on the city, hitting this apartment building, where Iryna's daughter Oksenia Epelman (ph) and her daughter's husband, David Epelman, slept.

Iryna Nikitska (through translator): When the neighbors were escaping, everyone knocked on the door of their apartment. But the door was jammed. And they could hear Oksenia screaming, "David, David." And then they heard nothing. And that was it.

Simon Ostrovsky: A total of 13 people were killed in the attack.

Iryna Nikitska (through translator): As a mother, I blame myself. A mother's mission is to keep her safe. Why didn't I feel in my heart that there was danger?

Simon Ostrovsky: You can't blame yourself.

Russia's ability to fire long-range missiles at Ukraine has brought the terror of war to cities far from fighting, regularly triggering air raid sirens that shake the calm of otherwise peaceful cities. One of the most commonly used is the airplane-launched Kh-101, designed originally by Russian aerospace firm MKB Raduga to carry tactical nukes, but now fitted with a conventional warhead and an upgraded guidance system.

When Russia fires the Kh-101s at densely populated cities like Kryvyi Rih, it may be committing a war crime. But does blame for such attacks end there? Ukrainian officials increasingly believe the companies whose components are being found in numerous Russian missiles need to be held to account too.

Man (through translator): This is the factory identifier. The 315 is characteristic of Kh-101s.

Simon Ostrovsky: We're at a secret location in Kyiv, where technicians analyzed weapons recovered from the battlefield. The fragments from the Kh-101 that crashed in Khmelnytskyi have been brought here.

They have cut the flight control unit out of this section. And we're going to take a look at what they found inside. If you look at the outer casing of the flight control unit from this Kh-101 missile, then you see Russian writing, Russian parts all over it. It looks like a Russian computer.

But once you open it up and start looking at the motherboards that are hidden inside, put it underneath the electronic microscope, then you start to see what the brains of this machine are actually made of. And it's full of American components.

Man (through translator): If we look here, we see imported components and not a single domestically made one. This is Altera. This is analog devices, Texas Instruments.

Simon Ostrovsky: In this instrument alone, we found products made by five American companies, the most recently manufactured of which is this Xilinx Spartan-6 microchip made by Santa Clara, California-based AMD in 2020.

The company told "NewsHour" it had no record of the sale of the chip and suspected the markings on it may have been altered. Microchips manufactured after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine started have also turned up in Kh-101s, like these Zilog processors made in March of 2022 and recovered from a missile shut down in the city of Dnipro in March of 2023.

Yantar, Ukraine (through translator): Russia lost the microelectronics war, and this is how it's trying to get by. It may be getting these microchips through contraband. It might be tapping stockpiles it already has.

But think about it. All of the mathematics of this missile are in one computer. And without one little microchip, they couldn't assemble it.

Simon Ostrovsky: It's clear that they have been able to assemble it, even though sanctions have been in place against the Russian arms industry for almost a decade.

I asked Olexandra Vasylenko, the director general for economic diplomacy and sanctions policy at Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, what the U.S. and its allies were doing wrong.

Olexandra Vasylenko, Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through translator): They are really cautious with their dialogue, and they are really cautious with enforcement.

And business should be explained, what will be the punishment if they will circumvent or not comply with the sanctions? And, definitely, we see that there is a lack of this conversation.

Simon Ostrovsky: James Byrne, a director at the Royal United Services Institute in London and one of the authors of a report on the Russian defense industry's reliance on imported semiconductors, echoed the Ukrainian view that there was little obvious enforcement of Russia sanctions.

James Byrne, Royal United Services Institute: I don't believe there has been any such action. We did have huge fines on some of the large financial institutions. And they were ultimately for essentially practices, failures in due diligence.

So it's certainly a possibility that something like this could happen, particularly if it's — if it continues or if it emerges that some companies really didn't follow any sort of due diligence.

Simon Ostrovsky: According to Russian state procurement records obtained by "NewsHour," the Kh-101's onboard computer is made by Russian computer maker Korund-M at a cost of around $9,000 each.

Moscow's Central Research Institute of Automation and Hydraulics purchased 20 of the units in 2019.

Man (through translator): The Central Research Institute of Automation and Hydraulics is a leading company in Russia in the field of air and ground-launched cruise missile manufacturing.

Simon Ostrovsky: We sent pictures of the microchips we found to their American manufacturers to ask them who they were sold to in order to try to expose Korund-M's supply chain. But none of the companies were willing or able to provide the information.

Narrator: At Texas Instruments, we're much more than one of the world's leading semiconductor providers.

Simon Ostrovsky: This isn't entirely surprising. American technology giant Texas Instruments, whose components are turning up in multiple weapons platforms used by Russia, including the missile we saw, voted down a proposal to report internally on misuse of their company's product at its annual shareholders meeting in April.

Rich Templeton, Chairman, Texas Instruments: The board of directors recommends to vote against this proposal.

Simon Ostrovsky: That's Texas Instruments chairman Rich Templeton. His board of directors recommended to vote against the proposal because of a belief that the company already had a sufficiently robust compliance system in place and — quote — "complete traceability and prevention of product misuse is unachievable."

And not only do they not know where their parts are going. It sounds like they don't want to know.

James Byrne: Building compliance teams, tracing supply chains can increase the costs and the burden on some of these manufacturers. But I think that really is something that a lot of manufacturers and companies should look very closely at, because these components are still ending up in Russian weapons platforms.

Simon Ostrovsky: Texas Instruments told "NewsHour" it complies with the law and doesn't support or condone the use of its products and — quote — "applications for which they weren't designed."

In the meantime, Iryna consoles herself with the thought that accountability will eventually come to the people who made the missile that killed her daughter.

Iryna Nikitska (through translator): The people who do this, they must understand that innocent people are killed by the missiles they make.

No, I'm not filled with hate. I just believe that people who bring evil will get what they deserve.

Simon Ostrovsky: Not everyone in Ukraine is as patient as Iryna. Demands for companies to take more responsibility and the U.S. authorities to go after those that don't are only going to grow louder as the civilian death toll grows bigger.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Simon Ostrovsky in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine.


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