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Computer chip industry begins halting deliveries to Russia in response to U.S. sanctions

The world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, TSMC, is among the companies suspending sales to Russia

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is among those chipmakers that have halted deliveries to Russia. (Pichi Chuang/Reuters)
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The global computer chip industry, including the giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, has begun halting sales to Russia in the wake of U.S. sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden administration announced the sanctions Thursday, saying they would cut off more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports and kneecap the country’s ability to diversify its economy and support its military.

The ban, which is also being enacted by major U.S. allies, is designed to choke off deliveries to defense and other high-tech buyers in the aerospace and maritime technology sectors, but not to block deliveries of consumer electronics, the Biden administration said.

TSMC has suspended all sales to Russia and to third parties known to supply products to Russia while it sorts through the sanctions rules to ensure it fully complies, according to a person familiar with the company’s business, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

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In a statement, TSMC said it is “fully committed to complying with the new export control rules announced.”

GlobalFoundries, the chip manufacturer based in Malta, N.Y., said it also has begun complying with the rules. The company has a system to review and block any prohibited sales to Russia, said Karmi Leiman, the company’s head of global government affairs and trade, though he added that the size of the company’s sales to Russian buyers is “not material.”

Leiman said the internal review system is similar to the one the company uses for Huawei, the Chinese tech giant that has been a target of U.S. sanctions for several years.

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Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., said it “complies with all applicable export regulations and sanctions,” including the new Russia-focused export controls.

Russia is vulnerable to the export ban because it doesn’t produce consumer electronics or chips in large quantities, analysts say. In particular, it doesn’t make the highest-end semiconductors needed for advanced computing, an area dominated by Taiwan, South Korea, the United States, Europe and Japan.

TSMC’s participation in the sanctions is particularly damaging because the company is the world’s largest manufacturer of chips, including the most advanced.

Among the chips TSMC is no longer manufacturing and shipping are Elbrus-branded semiconductors that are designed in Russia, according to the person familiar with TSMC’s business.

Russia’s military and security services use Elbrus chips in some computing applications, according to Kostas Tigkos, an electronics expert at Janes, a U.K.-based provider of defense intelligence, who described the loss of TSMC’s help with the chips as “devastating” for Russia.

The Russian government has also been encouraging large domestic companies and banks to use Elbrus chips in their computers because the components are designed in Russia.

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The Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group representing big chipmakers, said its members are “fully committed to complying” with the new rules “in response to the deeply disturbing events unfolding in Ukraine.”

“While the impact of the new rules to Russia could be significant, Russia is not a significant direct consumer of semiconductors, accounting for less than 0.1% of global chip purchases, according to the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS) organization,” the group’s president, John Neuffer, said in a statement.

The United States and other Western nations have long regulated sales to Russia of chips and other electronic components specifically designed for military use. Any such sales already required a government license to proceed, industry experts said.

The new rules largely block the sale of dual-use chips, which have both military and commercial applications, to nonmilitary users in Russia, including those in high-tech industries.

In a novel move that the United States has used only once before — against China’s Huawei — it is also requiring companies worldwide to abide by the rules and block such sales to Russia if they use U.S. manufacturing equipment or software to produce chips. Most chip factories around the world use software or equipment designed in the United States, analysts say.

That approach is called the foreign direct product rule.

“With these export controls, we, together with our allies and partners, are technologically isolating Russia and degrading its military capabilities,” Thea D. Rozman Kendler, the assistant secretary of commerce for industry and security, said in a statement Thursday. “Russia’s access to cutting-edge U.S. and partner country technology will halt. Its defense industrial base and military and intelligence services will not be able to acquire most Western-made products.”

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