How Russia stopped being a leader in semiconductor manufacturing

Mikron Russia Semiconductors

The widespread economic boycott of the country ruled by Vladimir Putin because of his invasion of Ukraine has led to Russian chip designers like Baikal, Yadro and others being barred from using foreign smelters to make their own chips. In principle, the answer would be as easy as making them in your territory. Unfortunately, Russia is behind in semiconductors.

It has been several decades since the Cold War theoretically ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the relations of the geographically largest country in the world with the so-called Western world have not been fully consolidated and the Slavic country that was an empire recently more than a century does not forget the old glories, many of them still in the memory of many living people. That is why they have wanted to be leaders or at least competitive in various strategic sectors.

One of these is the manufacturing of semiconductors, what we know as chips, and it cannot be said that they have done well in that regard. Despite having the ability to design their own chips, their ability to mass-manufacture them has been technologically falling further and further behind. This problem is not new, but has been dragging on since the early 1990s when the productive force of the USSR was left outside Russia after the collapse in 1991. The countries that benefited the most? Germany, Belarus and Ukraine. In any case, there was no interest in the country of the tsars for the development of a competitive chip manufacturing industry for a long time and its industry was frozen in time.

JSC Mikron, the Russian Intel

JSC Mikron, is the largest chip manufacturing company that exists in the entire Slavic country, because it not only manufactures, but also designs its products, this would be the equivalent of Intel and more than half of the hardware they manufacture internally and export from Russia is from this company. This is the evolution to a private company of the molecular electronics research institute in moscowwhich It was founded in 1964 in the middle of the space race. Being its purely military utility. Today they manufacture RFID chips for credit cards, SIM cards and other types of smart cards. All of them for domestic use in a country that has degenerated into a completely autarkic economy.

Its factories produce wafers of 100, 150 and 200 millimeters in size. Very far from the 300 used today by leading foundries around the world. Not only that, but they are so technologically out of date that in 2010 they signed an agreement to use ST Microelectronics’ 90nm node. To situate you temporarily, the products under this node of TSMC and Intel began to be produced in 2003, which meant that a decade ago in Russia there was a gap of 9 years.

Why Russia is not competitive in semiconductors

Russian Prohibited Hardware

Let’s go back to 2014, the date on which the conflict between Ukraine and Russia began to worsen and the first international sanctions arrived. Which preemptively led the Russians to create their own semiconductor device manufacturing program. The idea was none other than to stop depending on foundries located in countries with US influence and not have to depend on China for manufacturing.

For the 65nm node, JSC Mikron decided to develop it in-house and there was an announcement about the node. However the ad was a huge hoax. Since it was not a viable node for mass manufacturing. The reason behind it is that Russia needed to import from abroad the necessary machinery for chip manufacturing under that node.

Since they have never been built within the Slavic country. Today it is the maximum node they can reach and if we take into account that in 2022 the most advanced node that can be achieved at TSMC is the 3nm node, we can get an idea of ​​why Russia cannot replace TSMC and Neither does Intel.

Keep in mind that the 65nm node dates from the year 2005, so we are talking that if the node had come out in 2014, as promised, it would be 9 years, but we are in 2022 and, therefore, we are talking about a technological lag for russia in semiconductors 17 years old. Which led to the design made in Russia having to become fabless and consequently design in Russia but manufacture in foreign companies, especially TSMC. Being its most complex design the Baikal BE-M1000, of which we made a review one day.