“I especially want to welcome our friends from faraway Taiwan,” he said, video footage of the event posted online shows. “For almost a year now, we have been working very hard.”
Since January 2023, I Machine Technology has imported over $20 million of sophisticated equipment called CNC machine tools made in Taiwan, a U.S. strategic partner, according to trade records and Russian tax documents obtained by The Washington Post. The computer-controlled machines are used for the complex and precise manufacturing that is critical in many industries, including weapons production.
The Taiwan-made machines accounted for virtually all of the Russian company’s imports in the first seven months of last year, according to the records, and the company’s sales during that period were overwhelmingly to the Russian defense industry. Bredikhin also sought to make the machines available for a secretive Russian effort to mass-produce the attack drones that have unleashed horrors on the U.S.-backed Ukrainian army, according to an invitation sent to one of the project managers overseeing engine construction for the drone program.
Kevin Wolf, a former senior Commerce Department official who once headed the agency that implements U.S. export controls, said shipments identified by The Post probably violated prohibitions Taiwan and the West imposed last January on the sale of technology to Russia, in response to the Ukraine war. He said the shipments should “absolutely” be an enforcement priority for authorities in Taiwan.
“This is why export controls against Russia were imposed,” he said. “You’ve got tools that are very important for making military items. You’ve got a lot of connection to military end uses and users. You have connections to drones. You’ve got a large dollar amount. This is a classic enforcement priority issue.”
The shipments highlight how, despite a U.S.-led regime of global restrictions that is one of the most expansive in history, Russia’s defense industry has remained robust partly because of regulatory loopholes and lax enforcement. Critical goods have continued to flow directly to Russia, as well as through China and other countries that are not participating in the restrictions — including, in this case, goods that originated on a self-governed island that is allied with the United States.
“On the one hand, we appreciate the efforts taken by our partners so far to disrupt Russian supply chains,” said Vladyslav Vlasiuk, a sanctions expert and adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “At the same time, it is clearly not enough.”
The machines were sent in 63 separate shipments, according to Russian trade data obtained by The Post and export records provided by the Center for Advance Defense Studies, or C4ADS, a Washington-based nonprofit focused on global security. The first batches, worth $4.47 million, were sent directly to Bredikhin’s firm from a similarly named Taiwanese trading company, I Machine Tools. Yu Ming Je, who describes himself on LinkedIn as a sales director for the company, was among those Bredikhin paused to recognize at the retreat in Sochi. Yu was previously a co-owner of the Moscow-based firm, according to Russian business records.
By the end of May, the direct shipments of CNC machine tools to Russia ceased. The remaining equipment, worth $17.8 million, traveled a circuitous route. Though Bredikhin imported those shipments from Turkey or China, trade records show that the machines were manufactured by several other Taiwanese companies.
Bredikhin acknowledged in a phone interview with The Post that he had for years imported CNC machine tools from I Machine Tools, but he denied doing so after the restrictions were put in place last January. He said the shipments after that point were for spare parts and so did not violate export controls.
“I’m not buying anything from them except for parts,” he said.
He did not respond after being given copies of trade records showing that in nearly every case his firm was importing complete CNC machine tools, some listed by model and trade code, and not merely parts.
After The Post contacted Bredikhin, dozens of posts were deleted from I Machine Technology’s Instagram account. Among them were images and videos of the Sochi retreat, of Yu with other Taiwanese executives and of Bredikhin visiting Taiwan.
In an interview, Yu initially said that his company stopped all shipments to Bredikhin’s firm once Taiwan imposed export restrictions. After being told of the records gathered for this report, he acknowledged the shipments last year but said they involved parts that were not subject to export controls.
“You still have to do this kind of service, because when the sanctions are lifted in the future, we can still cooperate, instead of just cutting it off,” he said.
I Machine Tools-branded goods made up more than 40 of the shipments to I Machine Technology last year, including some that came via Turkey and China, according to Russian import records. Only several were for parts, the records indicate.
After those records were sent to him, Yu said that since export controls were imposed, “our company has no longer transacted with this dealer.”
He also suggested that the records might not be authentic and said his firm has not been a supplier for the Chinese and Turkish companies that sent shipments to I Machine Technology.
He said he was not aware of I Machine Technology’s ties to the Russian military. “Distributors basically have many users,” he said.
Taiwan has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and, in April 2022, imposed controls on exports of technology to Russia. In January 2023, it expanded those measures to include certain CNC machine tools, making the controls “substantially equal to those of the E.U. and U.S., as well as in line with those of democratic allies,” Taiwan’s International Trade Administration said at the time.
The alignment occurred as Taiwan looks to the United States for security amid fears the island could be invaded by China. The response to Russian aggression in Ukraine is widely seen as one indicator of how the West might respond to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, giving Taipei added incentive to support Ukraine’s defense.
“The current government in Taiwan does feel a strong motivation to signal clear support for a U.S.-led policy of restricting technology imports by Russia,” said John Dotson, deputy director of the Global Taiwan Institute. “They want to stake out that position to show their affinity with the United States to further shore up their own security relationship.”
Taiwan’s International Trade Administration, in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, declined to comment on whether the Taiwanese companies identified in this report violated export controls. The Taiwanese government is planning to bar Taiwanese companies from selling their goods to I Machine Technology out of concern they could be used for weapons production, the agency said in a statement.
At the request of The Post, researchers at the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security reviewed the trade data, financial records and technical documentation gathered for this report.
The team — led by former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright and researchers Sarah Burkhard and Spencer Faragasso — found that several of the models of CNC tools described in the records were probably subject to export controls, but said a definitive assessment would require input from the Taiwanese government.
“If Taiwan has aligned its export controls with the United States, its stated policy, then many of I Machine Tool’s exports would be illegal under Taiwanese law and/or regulation,” they wrote in their assessment. “But a complicating factor is that Taiwan sometimes lags in new situations to writing expanded control or sanctions legislation and enhanced export controls and then enforcing the new laws.”
“If any of the machine tools went to entities involved in WMD [weapons of mass destruction] or the means to deliver them, such as by missile, Taiwan’s law would control such exports,” they wrote, noting that “Taiwan should have done a better job ensuring its exports did not contribute to Russia’s war effort.”
The arrangement between the two similarly named companies puts them in a category by themselves, according to the researchers. The Taiwanese firm effectively has a “Russian domestic sales” branch that provides access to a wide range of companies in Moscow’s military industrial complex, they wrote.
In early November, 10 members of Congress urged the Biden administration to prioritize the curbing of exports of CNC machine tools to Russia. The letter noted a “troubling trend” of machine tools produced by U.S. allies, including Taiwan, making their way to Russia’s defense industry.
That same day, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Bredikhin’s firm, citing its connections to the Russian defense industry.
Russia for years has been heavily reliant on imports to obtain CNC (computer numerical control) machine tools. The machines, typically weighing thousands of pounds, are used to mass-produce goods that require an extreme and consistent level of precision. They follow computerized instructions to shape metal or other materials, using drills, lathes, mills or other components.
“CNC machine tools are the quintessential dual-use goods,” said Allen Maggard, an analyst with C4ADS. “Depending on the instructions you put into the machine, you can make the firing pin of a rifle or a metal water bottle from a block of metal. They remove human error and increase productivity. ”
An estimated 70 percent of Russia’s CNC machine tools have been foreign-sourced in recent years, according to the nonprofit Economic Security Council of Ukraine (ESCU). After the West imposed export restrictions, Russia increasingly turned to Asian-based suppliers, including Taiwan, for equipment needed by its defense industry.
From January to July of last year, I Machine Technology was paid more than $80 million for unspecified goods and services provided to over 40 weapons manufacturers and Russian military contractors, according to tax records provided by the Kyiv-based ESCU, which tracks goods used by Russia’s defense industry and investigates sanctions evasion. Several of those companies are under sanction by the U.S. Treasury Department for assisting the Kremlin’s war effort.
The records show that Bredikhin’s largest customer last year was Moscow Machine Building Plant Avangard, a key supplier of missiles used in Russia’s S-400 air defense system. Another customer operates a factory that produces command posts for Russia’s nuclear-capable Yars intercontinental ballistic missile system. The newly developed missile, capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, was demonstrated during an October military exercise that simulated a retaliatory nuclear strike.
Bredikhin acknowledged in the interview that his firm received millions of dollars in payments last year from the Russian defense industry. Without elaborating, he added, “To my great regret I am not supplying them anything anymore.”
Under Taiwan’s rules, controlled CNC machine tools cannot be shipped to Russia even if they are routed through third countries, experts said. Companies must disclose who the end user is to get export permits for such items, they said.
“If the end user is Russian, that would not be approved,” said Chou Hui-hsin, a Taipei-based trade lawyer.
In March of last year, thousands of people traveled to Taiwan for the Taipei International Machine Tool Show. Among the attendees were Bredikhin and a handful of employees of I Machine Technology, photos of the event show.
An employee of one of Taiwan’s largest CNC machine tool manufacturers, Arthur Deng, said in an interview that he was approached by a Russian attendee — not from I Machine Technology — who hoped to bypass Taiwan’s export restrictions and ship products via a third country.
“They know very well that many Taiwanese manufacturers do business in China, Turkey or some Eastern European countries,” said Deng, a regional director for Tongtai Machine and Tool, who said his company had stopped all exports to Russia by last January.
‘Russian partners come to Taiwan’
Photos posted to social media show Yu in years past visiting the facilities of Taiwanese CNC makers whose goods were imported by I Machine Technology in 2023; in some shots, he’s seen posing with company executives. Photos also show Bredikhin and Yu at some of the other companies’ facilities late in 2022.
In since-removed company webpages, Bredikhin described his firm as a “Russian branch” of I Machine Tools. The description is one of several indicators that the companies are related.
The companies’ logos are similar — each combines the letters “i’ and “m” — and the trademarks for both logos are registered to the same Taiwanese firm, ROST Group and Technology. That firm, owned by a Russian national, Alexander Braslavskiy, specializes in exporting machine tools.
Braslavskiy’s son, Artem, a manager at the company, told The Post in a brief interview that I Machine Tools and I Machine Technology are “the same company.”
Yu said he was unfamiliar with Braslavskiy’s firm.
Russian corporate records show that in 2011 Yu was listed as a founder of I Machine Technology, owning a one-third stake in the Moscow-based company. His stake in the company was reported last week by the Insider and the Reporter, media outlets from Russia and Taiwan, respectively, in a joint investigation of machine tool shipments.
Yu has traveled to Russia frequently over the past decade on business, his social media posts show. One image from a trip to Moscow in 2012 shows Yu and Bredikhin, along with a former co-owner of Bredikhin’s firm.
That summer, Bredikhin and several business associates traveled to Taiwan, where they joined Yu for steak dinners, cigars and a fishing trip, according to social media posts. One post from the trip was captioned: “Russian partners come to Taiwan.”
It marked the beginning of a lucrative relationship for I Machine Technology.
By 2013, the company began publicly touting its connections to Russia’s defense industry, advertising that its “metalworking equipment” was used by helicopter factories, air defense systems manufacturers and ammunition cartridge producers, according to archived versions of its webpages. Other clients have included the producers of the Ka-52 attack helicopter and the manufacturer of the Buk missile system, according to government procurement records.
That year, I Machine Technology was awarded a contract for more than $100,000 to provide a CNC machine tool to Unit 45185 of Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, procurement records show. The unit is home to a technical and scientific research center, according to the London-based Dossier Center, sponsored by exiled Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a vocal critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
In 2014, the firm was awarded a contract for 4,378,000 rubles — or $115,000 at the time — to provide a CNC machine tool of Taiwanese origin to the FSB’s Unit 43753, which plays a role in Russia’s communication security and cryptology.
After the invasion, an opportunity
I Machine Technology’s long-standing connections to Taiwan proved beneficial as the Kremlin began to suffer massive losses of military equipment after invading Ukraine in February 2022.
In April of that year, the company assured customers that its deliveries of machine tools would remain uninterrupted. “Despite all the sanctions restrictions and difficulties, the logistics chain of our company operates as usual and all equipment is consistently delivered to the territory of Russia on time,” it said on Instagram.
That November, Bredikhin’s firm invited a project manager at a drone factory then being built in the Tatarstan region, 500 miles east of Moscow, to visit machine tool production lines in Taiwan. The project manager was involved in building engines for the drones, according to personnel documents leaked to The Post from inside the program, a secretive collaboration with Iran that was previously exposed by U.S. authorities.
“During the trip you will see the largest enterprises producing lathes and grinding machines,” read the invitation, which has Bredikhin’s name on the signature line. The invitation described Taiwan-based I Machine Tools as “our company.”
Russian engineers at the drone factory hoped to use equipment from I Machine Technology to make some of the most challenging parts of the drone engines, according to a slide presentation detailing production plans at their facility.
The documents reviewed for this report do not indicate whether the official involved in the drone program went on the December trip to Taiwan. Nor do they say if the drone factory ultimately acquired the Taiwanese equipment.
During the trip, Bredikhin visited four of the Taiwanese machine tool manufacturers whose equipment he later imported, as well as one other, according to since-removed images and posts shared to Facebook and Instagram. At three of the facilities, he and Yu are pictured giving a thumbs up.
Bredikhin told The Post his firm “offered Chinese machinery for drone production” but said that he didn’t know the specifics and that his firm does not “currently” have any active contracts with the drone factory. He did not respond to follow-up questions about whether his firm supplied equipment to the factory at any point.
Bredikhin denied sending the invitation. He did not respond after being told the document appears to bear his signature.
For the Sochi retreat in June, Yu was accompanied by three other people from Taiwan, one an executive with another of the companies whose equipment was imported by Bredikhin, according to travel booking data obtained by a Ukrainian hacking group and reviewed by The Post. Images show the four individuals at the party.
Bredikhin said in the interview that the Taiwanese attendees were his “old friends.” He said that he invited them “to drink vodka” and that no business was discussed during the trip.
Yu said he was in Turkey for business and traveled to Sochi because “even though there’s no business, we are still friends.”
At the retreat, speaking to Yu in Mandarin, Bredikhin reflected on their business relationship.
“I think us meeting and getting to know each other was truly fortuitous,” Bredikhin said on video.
After he spoke, the men embraced.
Ilyushina reported from Riga, Latvia. Kuo and Wu reported from Taipei.