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Two Russian-Canadians have been charged in connection with what U.S. prosecutors allege was a conspiracy to skirt sanctions and procure electronic parts vital for Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

Nikolay Goltsev, 37, and Kristina Puzyreva, 32, from Montreal, were arrested in Manhattan on Tuesday during a trip to New York to visit Salimdzhon Nasriddinov, 52, a Brooklyn resident and a co-defendant.

“As alleged, the defendants evaded sanctions, shipping equipment to Russia vital for their precision-guided weapons systems, some of which has been used on the battlefield in Ukraine,” Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), said in a statement.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

In an affidavit and criminal complaint filed in support of the application for arrest warrants, a Department of Homeland Security special agent, Yevgeny Gershman, alleged that Mr. Goltsev, Ms. Puzyreva and Mr. Nasriddinov illegally exported millions of dollars of electronics to Russian entities – including companies affiliated with Moscow’s military – in violation of sanctions put in place after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, 2022. He said Mr. Goltsev and Ms. Puzyreva are dual Russian-Canadian nationals.

Mr. Goltsev also served as an account manager and purchasing co-ordinator for Electronic Network, Inc. a company based in Montreal, according to the affidavit. This firm was added to the U.S. government’s sanction list in the winter of 2023 for allegedly supporting Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. He and Ms. Puzyreva are married, the affidavit said.

Over the course of a year, the affidavit alleges, the defendants dispatched over 300 shipments valued at US$10-million – items that ended up on the battlefield, said Ivan J. Arvelo, special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations, in a statement.

The trio used two companies registered in Brooklyn, SH Brothers and SN Electronics, to facilitate the shipments, buying electronics from U.S. manufacturers. Many of these items are considered vital to Moscow because of “their critical role in the production of advanced Russian precision-guided weapons systems, Russia’s lack of domestic production, and limited global manufacturers,” the arrest affidavit said.

Electronics with the same make, model and part number shipped by SH Brothers were subsequently found in Russian weapons platforms and signals intelligence gear seized by Ukraine. These include the Izdeliye 305E light multi-purpose guided missile, Ka-52 helicopters, Orlan drones and T-72B3 battle tanks, the affidavit said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the EDNY said attorney Sarah Sacks of Epstein Sacks PLLC was acting defence counsel for Mr. Goltsev. Ms. Sacks did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the EDNY said Kristina P is being represented by Federal Defenders of New York, which defends persons charged with federal crimes who cannot afford to hire an attorney. The organization’s Brooklyn office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Investigators allege that the defendants knew the electronics they were exporting had military applications. In a 2023 e-mail dated Feb. 23, a Russian holiday commemorating the country’s military forces and veterans, Mr. Nasriddinov wrote Mr. Goltsev to wish him “Happy Defender of the Fatherland.”

Mr. Goltsev replied: “Happy holiday to you too my friend, we are defending it in the way that we can,” with a smile emoji, according to the affidavit.

Lawyer John Boscariol, head of McCarthy Tétrault’s trade and investment group, said the charges are the latest in a string of enforcements across Western countries that are targeting efforts to circumvent or evade sanctions on Russia. And if the facts alleged by U.S. prosecutors are true, he added, the two Canadians charged would likely also be breaking Canadian sanctions law, which applies to citizens wherever they are in the world.

“Clearly, the United States is stepping up enforcement,” Mr. Boscariol said. “Some are raising questions now as to whether the Canadian government is on top of enforcement issues when it comes to its own citizens.”

The Canada Border Services Agency did not immediately respond when asked whether Canada had contributed to the investigation.

Back in August, a report by the Royal United Services Institute defence think tank said that more than 450 foreign-made components had been found in Russian weapons recovered in Ukraine. The group said the majority of the apparent Western components in the weapons were manufactured by U.S. companies – evidence that Russia’s war machine is heavily reliant on imports of sophisticated microelectronics to operate effectively.

Investigators say Mr. Goltsev and Mr. Nasriddinov exported the items from the United States and shipped them to Russia and Russian customers, including Radioavtomatika, Komtech, Testkomplekt and EKB-Neva, through a variety of intermediary companies in countries such as Turkey, Hong Kong, China, India and the United Arab Emirates.

The affidavit said Mr. Goltsev typically used aliases such as “Nick Stevens” and “Gio Ross” when communicating directly with U.S. manufacturers and distributors.

In a statement Wednesday, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Yuliya Kovaliv, said allies should be probing all allegations of circumvention of sanctions to starve Russia of the components it needs to wage war.

“It is crucially important to investigate each and every case of sanction circumventions, especially in the military and technology sector, to ensure that Russia is deprived of the ability to produce technological weapons, which Russia uses to kill Ukrainian people and destroy critical infrastructure,” Ms. Kovaliv said.

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