Western intelligence officials are investigating whether a network of wealthy and connected Russian expatriate investors is part of a covert effort to help Russia develop advanced technologies such as quantum computing and artificial intelligence through startups they fund in the United States.
This was reported by The Washington Post.
Before moving abroad to support high-tech companies in the US and allied countries, several expatriates were associated with one or more of three high-profile Russian technology initiatives. It is about the technological zone “Skolkovo” subsidized by the government of the Russian Federation; The Russian venture capital company and the Russian Quantum Center, which manages 12 laboratories near Moscow.
Western authorities raised concerns about Russian technology funding as early as 2014, when the Boston FBI publicly warned MIT about an alliance with Skolkovo and its founding president Viktor Vekselberg. Those concerns have intensified since Russia’s war in Ukraine, as authorities expand lists of Kremlin allies subject to sanctions in the form of restrictions on assets or business transactions.
A Russian venture capital firm was sanctioned by the US government in February, and a Russian quantum center was added to the list in September. That same month, the government said it could add anyone who had worked on quantum computing for Russia in the past.
Investigations have been complicated by insufficient or conflicting public information, the role of shell companies, and the closed nature of venture capital and private equity firms, which have far fewer regulations requiring disclosure than publicly traded companies.
In addition, the records show that some of the people in question have changed not only their political beliefs, but also records of their past positions, company names and registries, and their own names. But the network’s high-level ties to the Russian government and its focus on strategic technology have troubled investigators, people familiar with the investigation said.
Of particular interest to the investigation is Vekselberg, who used Northern California venture capital firm Maxfield Capital to invest in technology companies. He was appointed president of the Skolkovo Foundation after its launch in 2010.
Together with Vekselberg, Oleksandr Halytskyi joined the board of directors of “Skolkovo”. Having worked with American technologists for a long time, Halytskyi served as the coordinator of the government’s Russian venture capital company and helped found the Russian Quantum Center, which received millions from Skolkovo. He also founded Almaz Capital, a venture capital firm in California, bringing in such notable co-investors as Cisco Systems and Andreessen Horowitz, and investing hundreds of millions of dollars in technology companies.
American and Swiss officials have also made inquiries about Soviet-era émigré Serhiy Belousov. Belousov headed a number of large companies, including the large security company Acronis, which won US government contracts, including backing up Pentagon computer data, until at least 2017. Belousov’s first major company, the computer firm Parallels, was backed by Vekselberg’s Maxfield Capital and others. Acronis, officially Swiss, split from Parallels.
Belousov helped found the Russian Quantum Center. The Kremlin paid tribute to Belousov’s work for Russia and welcomed his move abroad, saying he could do more for the country while abroad.
“The Acronis team [of Bilousov’s company] even privately does a lot for the country. The role, for example, of Sergey Bilousov, the leader of the Acronis team, in the launch of a large state quantum computer system in Russia is not very public at the moment, but it cannot be overestimated,” he said. in 2019, Dmytro Peskov, spokesman for Russian dictator Putin.
Maria Drokova (Bucher) worked in three of Bilousov’s companies, a former press secretary of the pro-government Russian movement “Nashi”, which was engaged in persecuting Putin’s critics. After that, she created her own venture fund, Day One Ventures, in which Bilousov invested and which was connected to the Russian Quantum Center.