On February 24, on the anniversary of the start of full-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine, the European Union, the United States and Great Britain approved new sanctions packages, which, as many experts noted, are aimed primarily at tightening control over compliance with existing restrictions. For example, Rosatom and its subdivisions did not become their object, and many other measures caused significant disagreements within the EU, which postponed the decision to introduce them for several days. Some representatives of the Russian opposition even said that the West almost colluded with the Kremlin. But such conclusions are the result of our widespread inattention to detail.
Most of the Russian media went unnoticed - and hardly by accident - the blow inflicted by Western countries on one of the most sensitive "sore points" of the Putin system: the one that converges between the regime's vile surveillance of its own citizens, creating conditions for the deployment of cyberterrorism against the rest of the world and unbridled laundering of corruption proceeds. In this case, this point turned out to be the MTS holding - a bank and a cellular communication provider, behind which a deeply secret system for ensuring the most diverse interests of the "sovereign people" of modern Russia has long been hidden.
The blow was dealt to surveillance of citizens, cyberterrorism and money laundering
Formally, MTS is the largest of the Russian mobile operators, a private company that provides standard communication services on completely market terms. However, even at first glance, it is distinguished from its competitors by two features - the presence of a bank controlled by it (MTS Bank was established as the Moscow Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 1993, bought out by AFK Sistema in 1994 and then transferred to MTS PJSC in several steps ” [in 2019, the share of the new main shareholder reached 95%]) and, in rather murky circumstances, full control over OAO MGTS, Russia's largest fixed-line telephony operator operating in Moscow and involved in the implementation of government communications functions.
It is the latter circumstance that, most likely, led to the creation within the framework and at the facilities of MTS of the main center for controlling information flows, which, long before the Yarovaya law, began to spy on contacts on mobile networks and the Internet using SORM (System of Operative-Search Activities) . With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, MTS Bank, in which far from the simplest clients had kept money before, set about organizing a parallel banking structure in the UAE, where many wealthy Russians have recently relocated and where the center of business interests of criminal politicians of the North Caucasus republics has long been formed.
With the outbreak of war in Ukraine, MTS Bank began organizing a parallel banking structure in the UAE
In early February, the Western press reported that the new bank was licensed by the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates (although the issuance of the license itself most likely dates back to the end of 2022), which has not happened often lately - and the deposits of many VIP clients of such monsters excommunicated from international business, like Sberbank and VTB (the reason is simple: the transfer of money abroad took place within the framework of one bank, which until recently only Raiffeisen could provide, but it seemed much less “ours”).
And on February 24, the US Department of the Treasury, by its decree developing Executive Order No 14024 of April 15, 2021, dealt a severe blow to all this viper. Firstly, both the Moscow MTS-Bank and its Emirati subsidiary were included in the sanctions list. Secondly (which was not noted by any of the Russian analysts), unlike all other banks sanctioned under the same order, MTS Bank was not given a grace period until May 25, during which all others could complete their foreign operations, that is, the bank was disconnected from SWIFT within a few hours, and its correspondent accounts and foreign assets were immediately arrested. The Americans deliberately did not focus on this point, but to understand it, it is enough to refer to this document (in Russia, what happened was casually noted only in Vedomosti).
MTS-Bank was not granted a grace period, it was disconnected from SWIFT within a few hours
And, thirdly, the new order transferred to the number of SDN almost all companies associated with the "spy nest" inside the MTS - both the main manufacturer of programs for SORM used in Russia, the Citadel company, and 11 other leading companies doing business in this sphere (all of them have long been well known in the Russian "market"), as well as most of their owners and managers.
Now it is difficult to say how many millions of dollars are stuck in the Emirati MTS Bank, which has already begun to serve customers, but it is obvious that it will become much more difficult for Russian companies to obtain spy equipment. It should be added here that on the same day the US Department of Commerce by Executive Order No. 230221-0047 banned the export to Russia and Belarus of telephone and computer equipment valued at more than $300 in US retail. (At the same time, if earlier the United States introduced and then canceled restrictions on the export of computers and smartphones to Russia for private use, now this ban has been restored). And since at the same time criminal punishment was introduced for violating the new regime, in the near future “parallel importers” run the risk of repeating the fate of those brave guys who recently tried to purchase spare parts for Russian aircraft in the United States and now may end up in federal prison for up to 20 years.
The blow dealt to Putin's system of spying on Russians cannot be overestimated. The market for SORM-related services has recently become extremely “swollen”, and government contracts in this area now amount to billions, if not tens of billions of rubles. (By the way, it is impossible not to notice that the very “civilian” Minister of Digital Development, Telecommunications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation Maksut Shadayev, who previously did not fall under any what restrictions).
The market of services related to SORM has recently amounted to billions of rubles
With regard to SORM, it should be borne in mind not only that the basic technologies of this system were transferred to Russia by the United States in those blissful times when Putin demonstrated adherence to the Western strategy of combating international terrorism, but also that it is now based on the actual falsification of SSL -certificates of the largest websites (including companies declared "extremist" in Russia). The latter means that Moscow can not only quite successfully spy on its subjects, but also penetrate the global network (which, I note, almost initially refused by China, which built a firewall that fenced it off from the global Internet). Therefore, a strike against Russian companies associated with maintaining SORM is more likely not just an instrument of sanctions policy, but the first example of a preventive war, the time for which has long come. The total destruction of this segment of the Russian “information economy” can become the most important guarantee of the digital security of Western countries, and, no less important, a tool for radically expanding the space of freedom in the Russian part of the World Wide Web.
It is worth noting here that the message about the sanctions against the “heroes of SORM” appeared on the website of the State Department on the day they were adopted, although usually the announcement of information about the sanctions policy is the prerogative of the US Treasury.
However, for most Russians, the prospect of wiretapping their conversations and intercepting correspondence in the “secure” Telegram is not as terrible as what could follow the sanctions already announced by the Americans in the relatively near future (although there is reason to believe that the Kremlin is now paranoidly monitoring the mood of the elite and , for example, the death of a number of large businessmen may be associated with their negligence in the information space). In fact, on February 24, the United States announced another “Chinese warning” to Russia: so far only MTS Bank with its laundering business and SORM companies, whose center of influence is inside MTS, have been sanctioned, but not the mobile provider itself with its 80 million subscribers. If it turns out to be the next target, the roaming system will immediately “fall” (for which you need to make settlements with foreign providers), as well as, albeit a little later, the entire infrastructure of services based on equipment and technologies patented in the United States - communication in the 4G format and providing mobile Internet in the LTE format (by the summer of 2022, MTS itself was able to establish a “parallel import” of the equipment it needs, but now this may not seem so relevant).
As a result of sanctions, the roaming system, as well as communication in 4G and LTE formats, may fall
Of course, it would be surprising if, in response to the sanctions, the persons subjected to them did not follow a series of statements about their complete and utter disdain for them and that MTS Bank is “working as usual” (which is especially surprising against the background of the fact that the rest of the persons on the list, including those who received a grace period, already have problems , and all applications have disappeared from the MTS Bank itself from the AppStore and GooglePlay ). True, the authorities of the Emirates modestly reported that "The Central Bank is studying possible options [for actions] caused by the new status of [MTS] Bank in order to make a proper decision in due time" (and, probably, he has been studying them since his recent visit to Abu- Dabi Brian Nelson, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Counterterrorism and Financial Intelligence).
And in MTS itself, panic is now dominating, since at least half of the company's top managers have assets in Europe and the United States and documents for permanent residence in "unfriendly" countries.
Back in 2006, MTS, which was then experiencing an unprecedented take-off,carried out a rebranding that caused some bewilderment even among leading designers, choosing as its logo ... an egg , designed to "reflect simplicity, as well as a rich past, an active present and a successful, prosperous future" of the company . There is hardly a hint that a needle is hidden in the egg, at the end of which is the life of Koshchei, as well as the fact that the presence of primary sexual characteristics has been very disturbing lately for the Kremlin “alpha males” (for whom God has some meaning before). just because He is a man ), became the reason for saturating MTS with employees of the Russian special services and choosing the company as a base for deploying an information surveillance system for Russians. But the symbol of the leading domestic mobile operator perfectly matches the location and sensitivity of the recent sanctions strike. Well, we will find out soon whether "Putin's eggs" cracked or not...