Smuggler provided sensitive US tech to Russian, N. Korean governments, prosecutors say

A Russian national has been charged in the U.S. with smuggling devices used in counterintelligence operations out of the U.S. and into Russia.

Ilya Balakaev, 47, allegedly provided U.S. equipment to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the North Korean government, breaking U.S. sanctions against those countries.

The Department of Justice said Balakaev is “currently a fugitive.” The indictment against him was unsealed Friday in a New York federal court. If captured and convicted, he faces up to 75 years in prison.

Balakaev worked with FSB Center 8’s Military Unit 43753, a part of the Russian intelligence agency responsible for communication security and cryptology, prosecutors said. His company, Radiotester, repaired devices such as those designed to find surveillance bugs or send secret messages.

Because certain devices were not readily available in Russia, Balakaev’s company hired people in the U.S. to help him purchase equipment there, prosecutors said. Balakaev also traveled to the U.S. about 14 times since 2017 and purchased around 43 devices for the FSB, the indictment said.

The U.S. also alleged that he made a deal with the North Korean Embassy in Moscow to buy dangerous-gas detectors and software in the U.S. and provide those goods to the North Korean government.

The indictment “demonstrates the US commitment to vigorously prosecute those who evade sanctions for a profit, both for their wallet and for Russia as they continue their aggression against Ukraine,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in a statement.

On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department intensified sanctions against Russia, marking the anniversary of the Russian unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Among those added to the list were a handful of entities connected to cybersecurity and disinformation operations.

Since February 2022, the Treasury has imposed more than 2,500 sanctions in response to the Kremlin’s war. The goal is to isolate Russia from the international economy and hinder its ability to obtain the capital, materials, technology and support that sustain its war against Ukraine. 

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.