Russian firms including MH17 missile maker skirt sanctions to buy Microsoft products

Alec Luhn
The Dutch Safety Board presents findings in 2015 that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was destroyed by a Russian-made Buk missile. - Reuters

Russian state companies including the maker of the missile believed to have downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 have continued to acquire Microsoft products despite US sanctions, according to government documents.

State entities in Russia and Crimea that are under sanctions have obtained more than 5,000 Microsoft products worth 60 million roubles, or nearly £800,000, Reuters found. The purchases were listed on a state procurement database, and sources involved in five of them told Reuters the software had been obtained.

The database doesn't include private companies, meaning other sanctioned entities may also have gotten Microsoft software.

President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Yan Novikov, director of Buk missile producer Almaz-Antey. Credit: Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

One of the firms that acquired Microsoft products was defence concern Almaz-Antey, maker of the Buk surface-to-air missile. Dutch-led international investigators found that a Russian Buk missile system shot down MH17 from Ukrainian territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, killing all 298 people on board. Almaz-Antey has claimed MH17 was brought down by an older model of Buk fired from another location.

Sanctions adopted in 2014 prohibit US entities from doing business with the Russian defence sector and explicitly blacklist Almaz-Antey. 

Other sanctions forbid US entities from supplying goods, services or technology to Crimea. But Glavgosexpertiza, a state design bureau helping to build a bridge from the Russian mainland to isolated Crimea, and the defence ministry's Krym health spa in Crimea nonetheless acquired Microsoft software, the documents showed. 

An arch of the Kerch bridge connecting Russia and Crimea is transported to the building site on Tuesday. Credit: EPA/handout

Microsoft told Reuters that it had “robust trade compliance processes around the world to help ensure that our partners comply with all conditions including immediate halting of suspected improper sales by partners”. Buyers of the products in question are supposed to provide Microsoft with their name and address.

Some companies were nonetheless able to skirt the sanctions by misrepresenting their identity to Microsoft or buying through third-party suppliers. The Morye shipyard in Crimea bought a Windows server and Microsoft Office licences from a firm registered in Moscow, for instance.  

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