World Rally-Raid Championship

Silk Way Rally Association sanctioned by US Treasury Department

3 Mins read
Credit: KAMAZ-master

The Silk Way Rally Association, organiser of the eponymous rally raid, was among over 300 entities sanctioned by the United States Department of the Treasury on Wednesday as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues.

Although the race is ostensibly apolitical, the association is linked to the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces (GRU), the Russian military’s lead intelligence agency. A joint investigation by between Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and The Insider in April 2023 uncovered communications between the GRU’s Unit 29155 and race director Bulat Yanborisov. The unit is tasked with foreign assassinations and disruption campaigns in the West, which include detonating ammunition depots in the Czech Republic in 2014 and the poisoning of ex-Russian officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain in 2018. 29155 commander General Andrey Averyanov is also suspected of leading Russia’s military operations in Africa following the demise of Wagner Group’s leadership.

In April, Der Spiegel and The Insider collaborated with 60 Minutes to conclude that the unit was involved in “Havana syndrome”, an alleged illness that American officials reported experiencing overseas, though U.S. intelligence has expressed scepticism of their findings. The report also noted that Alexander Mishkin, one of Skripal’s assassins, and his colleagues travelled between Asia and Europe by disguising themselves as race mechanics.

Yanborisov has received various honours from the GRU and communicated with figures like former Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, while the 2023 joint investigation uncovered internal documents outlining SWR’s diplomatic capability and support Russia’s geopolitical agenda. For example, the association hoped to promote the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline between Russia and China and to preserve political stability in Mongolia; all three countries were to host the 2024 edition in July, though China was subsequently dropped from the route with the plan of returning for 2025. Other projects in the documentation, including a proposed 2022 route that went through nine countries in Central and West Asia, were described by the investigation as an attempt at projecting Russian soft power in the region. SWR officials refuted the report, insisting they had no knowledge of Yanborisov’s activities.

With the 2024 SWR set to begin in one month, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions focused on the “architecture of Russia’s financial system” as the country shifts to a wartime economy to continue its invasion. The Department of State, who sanctioned the GRU in September 2022, did the same for over 100 others in tandem with the Treasury Department.

“Bulat appears to use his properties in Europe as transit points for GRU officers,” explained the Treasury Department. “Bulat, who is Silk Way’s CEO and general director, alongside his son Amir Bulatovich Yanborisov (Amir), use Silk Way’s logistical infrastructure to procure anti-UAV and radioelectronic warfare equipment for use on the battlefield in Ukraine.

“Silk Way, Bulat, and Amir were designated pursuant to E.O. 14024 for operating or having operated in the defense and related materiel sector of the Russian Federation economy.”

Executive Order 14024, titled “Blocking Property with Respect to Specified Harmful Foreign Activities of the Government of the Russian Federation” and signed by U.S. President Joe Biden in April 2021, expanded existing penalties against the Russian government for interfering in global affairs. An amendment was written last December that added more meat to the order such as allowing the Secretaries of the Treasury and State to place sanctions.

“Russia’s war economy is deeply isolated from the international financial system, leaving the Kremlin’s military desperate for access to the outside world,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated. “Today’s actions strike at their remaining avenues for international materials and equipment, including their reliance on critical supplies from third countries. We are increasing the risk for financial institutions dealing with Russia’s war economy and eliminating paths for evasion, and diminishing Russia’s ability to benefit from access to foreign technology, equipment, software, and IT services. Every day, Russia continues to mortgage its future to sustain its unjust war of choice against Ukraine.”

The parent companies of defending SWR winner MAZ-SPORTauto and rival KAMAZ-master are also sanctioned by the West as state-run manufacturers who provide vehicles to the Russian military. Both teams, along with Russian and Belarusian competitors as a whole, are prohibited from entering races overseen by the FIA and FIM such as the Dakar Rally; while the FIM maintains a total ban, the FIA allows them to take part provided they agree to condemn the invasion, which is unlikely for MAZ and KAMAZ given their owners. Russian Automobile Federation president Boris Rotenberg and 2022 Silk Way class winner Nikita Mazepin, respectively an oligarch and the son of one, have received sanctions of their own too.

One of the largest rally raids in the world, the 2024 Silk Way Rally will run on 5–15 July from Tomsk to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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