Sergei Abramov: “I’m afraid that Russia is shooting itself not in the foot, but in the head”

In 2023, the FSB began sub­ject­ing dis­senters to puni­tive psy­chi­a­try. Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of  Sciences Sergei Abramov left the psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal after an exam­i­na­tion and became famil­iar with the updat­ed ver­sion of the charges. 

On January 30, 2024, Abramov, a major spe­cial­ist in super­com­put­er tech­nolo­gies, was intro­duced by an inves­ti­ga­tor from the FSB Directorate for the Yaroslavl Region to the con­clu­sion of an inpa­tient psy­chi­atric exam­i­na­tion , in which the sci­en­tist is rec­og­nized as ful­ly sane. On the same day, Abramov received an updat­ed text of his accu­sa­tion. According to inves­ti­ga­tors, the sci­en­tist, adher­ing to extrem­ist views and posi­tions, feel­ing dis­sat­is­fied with the cur­rent gov­ern­ment in Russia and the poli­cies pur­sued, sup­port­ed the activ­i­ties of an extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion and financed extrem­ist activ­i­ties (Part 1. 282.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). 

T-invari­ant spoke with the sci­en­tist about his life with the “extrem­ist” label, his polit­i­cal views and the rea­sons for the secu­ri­ty forces’ attack on the Russian super­com­put­er indus­try. Also Sergei Abramov trans­ferred for pub­li­ca­tion detailed diary entries about his stay in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal (some con­di­tions in which are harsh­er than in a pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter). 

Help. What’s new in the Abramov case?

We wrote in detail about the Abramov case (June, November ). The sci­en­tist con­tin­ues to deny his guilt, claims that he nev­er financed extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions and that in the part of the case mate­ri­als with which he was famil­iar­ized as of January 30, 2024, there is no evi­dence of his guilt.

As we found out: there is a fact of trans­fer from Abramov’s bank account of dona­tions to an unnamed “extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion” (accord­ing to media reports, we are talk­ing about the Anti-Corruption Foundation of Alexei Navalny), but, accord­ing to the sci­en­tist, he did not make these dona­tions. Abramov claims that a cer­tain third par­ty could have processed such a trans­fer on his behalf, and the case mate­ri­als known to the sci­en­tist him­self today do not allow us to estab­lish who, when, where and how these dona­tions were processed on his behalf. The sci­en­tist explained that this hap­pens and it is not uncom­mon: The Central Bank of Russia in 2021 count­ed for the year more than a mil­lion such cas­es - “bank­ing trans­ac­tions car­ried out with­out the con­sent of clients.”

Does not express delusional ideas

T-i: Sergei Mikhailovich, what did the psy­chi­a­trists decide? How dan­ger­ous are you to soci­ety and science?

SA: In November 2023, there was an out­pa­tient foren­sic psy­chi­atric exam­i­na­tion, which could not answer the investigator’s ques­tions about my san­i­ty. An inpa­tient foren­sic psy­chi­atric exam­i­na­tion was ordered. To con­duct it in December 2023, I spent 12 days in the Yaroslavl psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. This time, the experts were able to make their con­clu­sions and answer all the investigator’s ques­tions. The exam­i­na­tion estab­lished that I was sane in August 2021, when I was cred­it­ed with start­ing the crime (which I do not admit) and remain sane to this day.

Moreover, the exam­i­na­tion was thor­ough and, it seems to me, objec­tive. In con­clu­sion, there is a very detailed psy­cho­log­i­cal por­trait of me, which, it seems to me, does not fit in any way with the words “has extrem­ist views and position.”

Judge for your­self: the legal def­i­n­i­tion of extrem­ism (clause 1 of Article 1 of the 114-FZ) is about vio­lence or the threat of vio­lence, about the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of ter­ror­ism, about dis­cord or about supe­ri­or­i­ty (racial, nation­al, reli­gious…), about all sorts of things. Now try to com­bine this with my traits, as defined by experts: polite; friend­ly; empath­ic; judg­ments and assess­ments are bal­anced, some­what self-cen­tered; emo­tion­al man­i­fes­ta­tions are ade­quate to the sit­u­a­tion; a well-devel­oped sense of humor and demon­strates it appro­pri­ate­ly; the mood is even; does not express delu­sion­al ideas; con­for­mi­ty of inter­nal atti­tudes (ten­den­cy to con­formism); a con­tra­dic­to­ry com­bi­na­tion of mul­ti­di­rec­tion­al ten­den­cies - the desire to defend one’s posi­tion and atti­tudes to avoid con­flicts. To my taste, ifcom­bine every­thing, then you get “soft-boiled boots” - an extrem­ist con­formist try­ing to avoid conflicts.

In gen­er­al, the exam­i­na­tion passed. New life expe­ri­ence. I am very glad that the experts fin­ished in 12 days and on December 29 they released me home before the New Year, although accord­ing to the law they could have kept me there for longer. 

T-i: How did you spend those twelve days in the psy­chi­atric hospital? 

SA:I have no com­plaints about the doc­tors and sup­port staff. Moreover, I have a very warm atti­tude towards them: they are kind and mer­ci­ful peo­ple. The dif­fi­cult moments are asso­ci­at­ed with the pecu­liar­i­ty of the regime: no walks and tele­phone (to whom it was allowed) “on a forced basis.” And the hard­est thing is that it sud­den­ly turned out that the phone is unreach­able on the week­end, the wife is wait­ing for a call and can’t find a place for her­self, and you can’t do any­thing… In short, my wife went through dif­fi­cult days, think­ing about the rea­sons why I dis­ap­peared some­where. I left my mem­o­ries, in case some­one is inter­est­ed ( T-invari­ant pub­lish­es them with­out edi­to­r­i­al changes).

T-i: What did you learn at the last meet­ing with the investigator?

SA: Firstly, almost 20 kilo­grams of “iron” were returned to me. Not every­thing tak­en dur­ing the search, but some. My lap­top and five smart­phones (mine, my wife’s, my son’s) have not yet been returned. But they gave away the video sur­veil­lance serv­er in our house, my wife’s tablet, my lap­top, and one of my wife’s two phones. And also, what is espe­cial­ly impor­tant, a 6 ter­abyte dig­i­tal stor­age - a gift from the fam­i­ly for my anniver­sary, where pho­to and video archives of our fam­i­lies have been dig­i­tized for many years since the begin­ning of the cen­tu­ry, war pho­tographs of mom and dad… The stor­age has not yet been turned on, but I hope that noth­ing from the fam­i­ly archive was lost.

Also at this meet­ing, I hand­ed over to the inves­ti­ga­tor my tes­ti­mo­ny and peti­tions for var­i­ous inves­tiga­tive actions: exam­i­na­tions and an inves­tiga­tive exper­i­ment with me and my equip­ment. The goal is sim­ple: to ensure the com­plete­ness and objec­tiv­i­ty of the inves­ti­ga­tion, my rights to defense and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to prove my inno­cence. I can explain a lot about my busi­ness and am ready to do so. I’m wait­ing for the inves­ti­ga­tion’s deci­sion on my petitions.

So far, there are a lot of strange things in the case mate­ri­als that I am privy to. I’m wait­ing for all the mate­ri­als to be pro­vid­ed to me - about 1000 pages.

T-i: Let’s go back to the arrest in April 2023. Often before a search there are some signs that you may not notice at the moment, but in hind­sight you already per­ceive as hints. Has this ever hap­pened to you?

SA: Nothing like that. No hints.

T-i: How was the search itself car­ried out in April 2023?

SA: The search itself last­ed from about sev­en o’clock until mid­night, there were ten peo­ple from the inves­ti­ga­tion, includ­ing two wit­ness­es. They took out a huge amount of equip­ment. They were look­ing for a weapon, but I don’t have one. My eyes lit up when I found the dag­ger, but it was an award from the Permanent Committee of the Union State of Russia and Belarus with a cer­tifi­cate that it was a sou­venir product. 

They were look­ing for a large amount of cash and asked where my safe was. We couldn’t believe that there was no safe in our rur­al house. 

We lin­gered for a long time on fold­ers with mate­ri­als from for­eign trips. And the worst thing we learned about lat­er was that for some rea­son they came to search my son’s Pereslavl apart­ment. The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the search in my son’s apart­ment was that I was alleged­ly reg­is­tered there, although the inves­ti­ga­tion knew very well that I was reg­is­tered in Moscow. No weapons, large sums of mon­ey or any­thing else were found on the son. They took the phone - a gift from his wife. This search had a very seri­ous impact on my son’s health.

T-i: How do you explain to your­self who came for you now and why?

SA: I don’t have data, but I have had many con­flict situations. 

For exam­ple, here is a stan­dard sit­u­a­tion: I am par­tic­i­pat­ing in anoth­er super­com­put­er project, in which I insist that every­thing must be done wise­ly - “a bridge must be built across the riv­er.” And they tell me: “Abramov, we will build a bridge along the riv­er. The deci­sion has been made and must be implemented.” 

In such cas­es, my posi­tion was sim­ple: “I won’t work like that. You can remove me from the project, but you will not force me to do what I con­sid­er wrong.” And such con­flicts made it pos­si­ble to acquire quite an influ­ence for many years.corporeal ill-wishers.

When I was the head of the Institute of Software Systems named after A.K. Ailamazyan of the Russian Academy of Sciences, then, using approx­i­mate­ly the same scheme, it turned out to very seri­ous­ly spoil rela­tions with some lead­ers of the local and region­al lev­el. Not with every­one, but with many I had excel­lent rela­tion­ships, mutu­al under­stand­ing and direct con­tact “on the mobile”. But sev­er­al times accord­ing to the scheme “It will be as I said!” - “No, it will be as I said, because it is cor­rect: accord­ing to the mind, accord­ing to hon­or and accord­ing to the law.” And when things turned out my way, I made ene­mies with great oppor­tu­ni­ties for a long time.

Finally, I have been liv­ing in a vil­lage for the last 15 years and occu­py a role that can be called “civ­il activist”. As an IT spe­cial­ist, I took part in orga­niz­ing the IT infra­struc­ture of the com­mu­ni­ty of fel­low vil­lagers: WhatsApp groups (more than 800 par­tic­i­pants), cloud stor­age of our cor­re­spon­dence with offi­cials. We are fight­ing, first of all, for decent roads and gasi­fi­ca­tion. No demon­stra­tions, but bor­ing and strong­ly rea­soned cor­re­spon­dence with­in the frame­work of Federal Law-59. We dis­cuss all group let­ters togeth­er, but I send them with my sig­na­ture. And based on our appeals, the pros­e­cu­tor’s office sued the local author­i­ties three times and won these courts. I think that after this my per­son may cause dis­sat­is­fac­tion among some local or region­al officials.

In short, turn­ing Vizbor over: undoubt­ed­ly I have many, many influ­en­tial friends, which means, of course, there are also influ­en­tial enemies. 

Where would we be with­out this? And if there are vin­dic­tive peo­ple among them, then they may try to find a way to set­tle accounts with me for the past. Even if many years have passed. And if you think about the cur­rent case (and I thought about it a lot), then as an IT spe­cial­ist I will say: any ill-wish­er could eas­i­ly car­ry out a sim­ple oper­a­tion - on my behalf from my bank account to trans­fer mon­ey to any extrem­ists. It is very sim­ple and does not require any spe­cial knowl­edge, hack­ing skills or spe­cial tools. Well, our sys­tem will do the rest for me. This way you can eas­i­ly get even for past “griev­ances.”

I always under­stood that there are ill-wish­ers. In 2010, for exam­ple, vig­i­lant influ­en­tial peo­ple expressed con­cerns that there were “signs of espi­onage for NATO,” and the FSB con­duct­ed an inves­ti­ga­tion. Thank God, then they looked into the case and decid­ed: there were no signs of espi­onage. I even had a copy of the response from the Russian FSB, which I call “a cer­tifi­cate from the FSB stat­ing that Abramov is not a spy.” Something tells me that if this hap­pened today, I wouldn’t be talk­ing to you. 

At the pre­sen­ta­tion of the award to them. Lebedev RAS, 2015. Facebook S. Abramov. (Left to right: Sergey Abramov, Vladimir Fortov, President of the Russian Academy of Sciences (2013-2017), Vsevolod Opanasenko, own­er of the T-Platforms company)

T-i: Where did the FSB sus­pect of espi­onage come from then? 

SA: We, our team, our insti­tute are direct­ly involved in the cre­ation of 6 domes­tic super­com­put­ers that are includ­ed in the world rank­ing TOP-500, and if you count indi­rect par­tic­i­pa­tion, then by 12. And the total num­ber of domes­tic cars in the TOP 500 in his­to­ry is 14. Sometimes we got an ugly pic­ture when, for 80 mil­lion rubles, we cre­at­ed a super­com­put­er that was tru­ly at the cut­ting edge of glob­al tech­nol­o­gy — not the largest, because we didn’t have a lot of mon­ey; but every detail in it was real­ly at the cut­ting edge of the indus­try. It was pos­si­ble to add rea­son­able mon­ey and, thanks to these solu­tions, sim­ply take first place in the world… And at that time, anoth­er project had bil­lions, but the tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tions were much infe­ri­or. Beautiful pic­ture? No, not beau­ti­ful. It is clear that the admin­is­tra­tive resource in a large project was larg­er. Well, it began. Letters were sent from State Duma deputies, mem­bers of com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent par­ties to dif­fer­ent author­i­ties: to the Ministry of Education and Science, to the Russian Academy of Sciences, etc. The con­tent of the let­ters is that Abramov makes incor­rect tech­ni­cal deci­sions, con­ducts ten­ders incor­rect­ly, and incor­rect­ly spends bud­get money.

T-i: In the end, which car of yours led to accu­sa­tions of pos­si­ble espionage?

SA: The most crit­i­cal peri­od was when we were mak­ing the SKIF-Aurora SUSU machine. This is exact­ly the kind of project in which all the details were real­ly at the fore­front of tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment in the indus­try. Only 80 mil­lion rubles were allo­cat­ed for the project and, if its scale(I insist­ed on this, but to no avail), it would be pos­si­ble to build the TOP-10, and even the TOP-1. The project was car­ried out in close coop­er­a­tion of the Institute with the Italian com­pa­ny Eurotech and with the young Russian com­pa­ny RSK-SKI (now a group of com­pa­nies RSK), with tech­ni­cal sup­port from Intel.

And it was no secret to every­one that Eurotech was not just a large inter­na­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny with main divi­sions in Italy, but also one of the most impor­tant devel­op­ers and sup­pli­ers of embed­ded elec­tron­ics for NATO.

At the same time, a large super­com­put­er project worth bil­lions of rubles was start­ed. At the sketch­ing stage, I par­tic­i­pat­ed in its incep­tion. At the stage of devel­op­ing approach­es to “how we will build a bridge,” I said that it is pos­si­ble to build it very beau­ti­ful­ly - using the SKIF-Aurora technology. 

At some point, one high-rank­ing offi­cial, with whom we did many projects togeth­er, told me: “We will not build the way you pro­pose. The tech­ni­cal solu­tion is dif­fer­ent. Decision is made. You and the Institute are invit­ed to imple­ment the deci­sion as co-execu­tors.” I refused. And this is not accept­able on some level. 

After this, the let­ters from the con­cerned deputies from the Duma that I spoke about came out. After a while there was a major inspec­tion by the FAS of Russia. Moreover, it is not the Office of the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia for the Yaroslavl region, but the “cen­tral office”. And the “pen­ny” case worth 80 mil­lion rubles was led by the first deputy head of the FAS Russia. Can you imag­ine this? The deci­sion of the FAS Russia is to ter­mi­nate the deal and “nul­li­fy” the project. If this deci­sion had been imple­ment­ed, it would have been easy for me to present some­thing from the class of “mis­use of the bud­get on an espe­cial­ly large scale.” However, we were able to over­turn the deci­sion of the FAS Russia in court, while the FAS Russia fought to the last - until the Supreme Arbitration. Well, does­n’t this sound fan­tas­tic today? Victory in court over the deci­sion of the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia?

Then there was a sched­uled audit by the Accounts Chamber. We com­plet­ed the Union project SKIF-GRID, and Union projects always reg­u­lar­ly end with a large audit of audi­tors. But they weren’t talk­ing about account­ing at all. And the guys are all so strong, for some rea­son it always seemed to me that their shoul­der straps were vis­i­ble through their shirt. They asked me for a long time about Eurotech, how we inter­act­ed with them, what we got from this coop­er­a­tion, what they got, what they talked about, what they did. These were employ­ees of the Accounts Chamber, but their style showed excel­lent tech­ni­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal aware­ness and expe­ri­ence in inves­tiga­tive work.

The depart­ment was then head­ed by Sergei Stepashin. Our audit was con­duct­ed by one of the Russian audi­tors - Viktor Kosourov (lat­er sen­a­tor). An unheard of thing: he him­self came to us in Pereslavl! Usually Russian audi­tors do not leave the Moscow Ring Road.

T-i: Found any violations? 

SA: Why! And now Kosourov reports: The SKIF-GRID pro­gram will be suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed (there were still a few months left), all goals have already been achieved, the flag­ship - the SUSU SKIF-Aurora sys­tem - has been com­plet­ed at the high­est tech­no­log­i­cal lev­el, pre­vi­ous­ly not demon­strat­ed in Russia, includ­ing through inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion. But there are three drawbacks.

Firstly, we are cre­ative peo­ple, and as an adver­tise­ment for our flag­ship project, we ordered sou­venir caps with “SKIF-Aurora” writ­ten on them. The super­com­put­er itself and the tech­nolo­gies in it were rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Therefore, of course, this is a ref­er­ence to that same Aurora, from 1917. This sou­venir was only worth a cou­ple of tens of thou­sands of rubles. And in the bud­get esti­mate there was no item “adver­tis­ing products.”

Secondly, we paid trav­el allowances to insti­tute dri­vers and insti­tute secu­ri­ty (we have our own), who trans­port­ed “hard­ware” worth mil­lions of rubles from Pereslavl to Chelyabinsk. And accord­ing to the bud­get esti­mate, only sci­en­tists could be paid.

Thirdly, the FAS with its very deci­sion on incor­rect bidding…

Stepashin gave me the floor, ask­ing me to respond to these vio­la­tions. I explained that we admit the mis­takes, but we have already cor­rect­ed them: from non-bud­getary funds we returned the few mon­ey (sou­venirs and trav­el allowances) to the bud­get of the Union pro­gram. Well, the deci­sion of the FAS Russia has already been over­turned by the court.

Word inis returned to our audi­tor and he unex­pect­ed­ly says that dur­ing the audit there were many sig­nals and very influ­en­tial peo­ple sim­ply came… In gen­er­al, vig­i­lant cit­i­zens have the impres­sion that in the process of inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion there were signs of espi­onage in favor of NATO coun­tries. Critical tech­nolo­gies and knowl­edge went to Eurotech or Intel… And since the Accounts Chamber is not autho­rized to under­stand such issues, our audi­tor said, but sig­nals did arrive, that is, an opin­ion to write a let­ter to the FSB of Russia - let them check it.

Stepashin asks me: “Well, what do you say about this?”

To which I replied (and sud­den­ly such apa­thy came over me from every­thing I heard): “You know what… You can’t put a scarf over some­one else’s mouth. Let the experts check for espi­onage and close this top­ic. Please write a request to the FSB.”

“We’ll set­tle it on that,” said Stepashin. And he sent a let­ter to the FSB. 

There was an inspec­tion, I was ques­tioned many times. But every­thing was fine, it didn’t come to the point of ini­ti­at­ing a crim­i­nal case. Naturally, there was no espi­onage there. Russia, with­out pay­ing a pen­ny, legal­ly acquired the legal rights to sev­er­al cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies - it was. And we didn’t trans­mit any­thing crit­i­cal in the oppo­site direc­tion. Some sol­id engi­neer­ing, but noth­ing more. 

T-i: Was it the first depart­ment at your institute?

SA: Always. And then I had nor­mal work­ing rela­tions with the employ­ees of the local and region­al depart­ments of the FSB. And the words about “oper­a­tional sup­port” were writ­ten for a rea­son. Everyone was doing their own thing. I - sci­ence, they - the secu­ri­ty of the coun­try. And everyone’s busi­ness con­cerned the inter­ests of Russia. Moreover, even inter­nal threats were mon­i­tored. So one day one of the FSB offi­cers super­vis­ing us came and said that there was an aggra­va­tion, and rec­om­mend­ed that I renew my driver’s weapons per­mit and in the future trav­el with weapons. So, they warned me.

“I don’t need Navalny to critically assess the situation in the country”

T-i: But you are describ­ing 2010-2012. It’s unlike­ly that your crim­i­nal case is an echo of those sto­ries. What pre­ced­ed this in recent years?

SA: There was a strange sto­ry in 2022: an inspec­tion of the insti­tute by the pros­e­cu­tor’s office, when I was no longer the direc­tor. They took some peo­ple to the depart­ment, where they argued that the pre­vi­ous direc­tor (that is, me) had incor­rect­ly col­lab­o­rat­ed with com­pa­nies under sci­en­tif­ic and tech­ni­cal coop­er­a­tion agree­ments. What’s wrong with that? After all, Russian IT com­pa­nies can­not pro­duce world-class tech­nolo­gies with­out aca­d­e­m­ic sci­en­tists. And vice ver­sa, sci­en­tists can only obtain inter­est­ing and prac­ti­cal tasks “from the fields, from the ground.” It seemed like a rou­tine check, but occa­sion­al­ly some ques­tions popped up about my polit­i­cal views. And in the con­text of one Russian oppo­si­tion­ist, whose name the author­i­ties do not like to mention.

T-i: Our read­ers are also inter­est­ed in what Abramov and Navalny are doing

SA: Firstly, I liked some of what Alexey Anatolyevich did and said. But this is not a rea­son to label me a “sup­port­er” or “sup­ports (jus­ti­fies) extremism.”

If we talk about Navalny as a per­son, then, of course, he is out­stand­ing, strong in spir­it, faith­ful to his pur­pose (as he sees it), fol­lows his prin­ci­ples with the utmost dedication.

Secondly, I don’t real­ly under­stand his pro­gram. First of all, because I didn’t study it. 

Thirdly, I am clear­ly not Navalny’s tar­get audi­ence. It seems to me that he is more focused on a dif­fer­ent cir­cle of Russian cit­i­zens. Both by age and by posi­tion in society.

Finally, I don’t need Navalny to crit­i­cal­ly assess the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try. I have my own head on my shoul­ders. In the USSR, I first went to physics and math­e­mat­ics. school, then at Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov was taught exact­ly one thing: to per­form a crit­i­cal analy­sis of a prob­lem, find reli­able infor­ma­tion for this, and, based on the results of the analy­sis, syn­the­size a con­struc­tive solu­tion to prob­lems. Therefore, as a cit­i­zen with such skills, I inde­pen­dent­ly see the prob­lems of the Motherland and am able in many cas­es to indi­cate con­struc­tive ways to solve them.

Well, and of course, per­son­al his­to­ry influ­ences. My grand­fa­ther was shot in 1937, I am the grand­son of a repressed per­son. Mom (as a vol­un­teer) and dad, the son of an ene­my of the peo­ple, (as a mobi­lized one) fought hon­est­ly and brave­ly in the Great Patriotic War side by side with therep­re­sen­ta­tives of dif­fer­ent peo­ples of the USSR. And the foun­da­tion of true patri­o­tism (in the cor­rect under­stand­ing of the word) comes from my par­ents. As well as a deep rejec­tion of racial, nation­al and any oth­er hatred - this also comes from them. All my “start-up cap­i­tal”: upbring­ing, edu­ca­tion, the fight against my med­ical prob­lems from birth, an excel­lent start to my pro­fes­sion­al career - this is all for me, the grand­son of an ene­my of the peo­ple, from the Soviet regime. And there’s noth­ing you can do about it. On the oth­er hand, I am a stu­dent anti-advis­er Turchin not only in sci­ence. His main book on phi­los­o­phy, “The Phenomenon of Science” (about how evo­lu­tion works of any sys­tem, includ­ing the state one), and a deep analy­sis of total­i­tar­i­an­ism in book “The Inertia of Fear” had a pro­found impact on me both as a sci­en­tist and as a cit­i­zen. Based on a pure­ly cyber­net­ic approach to ana­lyz­ing the struc­ture of the sys­tem, I can, with­out any­one else’s prompt­ing, come to the con­clu­sion that the con­cen­tra­tion of pow­er in the hands of one per­son and one par­ty is very harm­ful for the coun­try. This already hap­pened in the USSR and end­ed badly.

Sergey Abramov. Facebook

I don’t need Navalny to assess the sit­u­a­tion in which, for exam­ple, my old­er sis­ter lives. She was elect­ed head of the vil­lage. And she, among oth­er things, has been fight­ing for ten years to get gas to the vil­lage, and I help her with this (writ­ing let­ters, study­ing laws). There is gas in the required quan­ti­ty 800 meters from the vil­lage. And for 10 years, offi­cials wrote let­ters to my sis­ter say­ing that they would sup­ply gas, but it would take 13 kilo­me­ters. And why? Because you can ask for much more mon­ey for a project. And here’s an old woman, my sister’s neigh­bor, who has been chop­ping wood all sum­mer all year long so that she has some­thing to heat in the win­ter. She doesn’t have enough mon­ey to chop fire­wood, so she chops it her­self. And she does this on her knees. Due to its dilap­i­da­tion, because in years. All sum­mer it stings on my knees. To see this pic­ture once and live with it - this is what the great­ness of Russia looks like.

“They killed an incredibly bright, productive company and dealt a huge blow to the country”

T-i: Yes, great­ness didn’t work out in many places. So it is with super­com­put­ers. Your work has stopped, you are on the Rosfinmonitoring reg­is­ter of “extrem­ists and ter­ror­ists”, your three com­pa­nies’ accounts have been blocked. The work of the T-Platforms com­pa­ny of your col­league and com­rade Vsevolod Opanasenko has also been vir­tu­al­ly stopped, and he him­self is still under inves­ti­ga­tion. What’s wrong with the indus­try now?

SA: The last domes­tic unclas­si­fied super­com­put­er was made in Russia in 2014. Today, the only domes­tic pub­lic super­com­put­er remain­ing in the TOP-500 list is Lomonosov-2. In this sense, every­thing is over alto­geth­er. The rea­son is prob­a­bly the role of super­com­put­ers. A super­com­put­er today is the only means of win­ning com­pe­ti­tion (in any field: eco­nom­ic, social, tech­no­log­i­cal, mil­i­tary). There is no com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment, no com­pe­ti­tion - super­com­put­er tech­nolo­gies are not need­ed. The sec­ond the­sis (this is not my thought, this is a trans­la­tion of one slide of a report in the US Congress): “The super­com­put­er indus­try is the con­cern of the state.” If there is no ade­quate gov­ern­ment care, there will be no super­com­put­er indus­try. Adequate care is, for exam­ple, from 2 to 6 bil­lion US dol­lars per year from the bud­get. And no extra-bud­getary funds. And free (but com­pet­i­tive) ser­vices of the coun­try’s super­com­put­er infra­struc­ture to any com­pa­nies or oth­er con­sumers of this coun­try. If this is not the case at all, there will be regres­sion in the super­com­put­er indus­try. And even a small­er scale of mean­ing­ful gov­ern­ment con­cern leads to the awak­en­ing of the indus­try. Alas, today there is regression.

Apparently, cre­at­ing com­pet­i­tive­ly supe­ri­or prod­ucts, tech­nolo­gies and ser­vices is not the goal. We have gas, we have oil… And if there are prob­lems with them, it’s okay, “peo­ple are the sec­ond oil” - also a great source of resources. 

T-i: Who ulti­mate­ly ruined the indus­try? And is it still pos­si­ble to change the situation?

SA: I would not give up on the indus­try. Although she is in a huge regres­sion. Of course, the sit­u­a­tion with T-Platforms… this was, per­haps, the first strong blow.

But there was a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent time when the author­i­ties pro­tect­ed this com­pa­ny! In 2013, the T-Platforms com­pa­ny was black­list­ed by the USA and it was a sig­nif­i­cant blow.

T-i: The United States then accused T-Platforms of par­tic­i­pat­ing in work on weapons ?

SA: Yes, but always and in all coun­tries super­com­put­ers are used for mil­i­tary tasks. On one of our machines at the uni­ver­si­ty in Chelyabinsk, as far as I know, among oth­er things, some­thing was con­sid­ered for rock­et engines. It’s a com­mon thing. However, I note that when “T-plat­forms” were includ­ed in the “black list”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was ful­ly involved, and, accord­ing to rumors, even the first per­son of the coun­try … And they achieved the lift­ing of sanc­tions. We defend­ed it.

T-i: And today they not only do not har­ness, but with their own hands they bring into the inter­nal blacklists?

SA: Yes, time passed and claims from the Ministry of Internal Affairs arose against T-Platforms. Judicial “eco­nom­ic enti­ties” and crim­i­nal cas­es. The Institute car­ried out a tech­ni­cal exam­i­na­tion, I under­stand the real sit­u­a­tion and I can say that there were no devi­a­tions from the tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions in the dis­put­ed deliv­ery. And even if there were some oth­er rea­sons (not a vio­la­tion of the tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions), well, the coun­try (Ministry of Foreign Affairs? The first per­son?) had to do every­thing so that the com­pa­ny would not have any consequences. 

What do we have? They killed incred­i­bly a vibrant pro­duc­tive com­pa­nyand dealt a huge blow to the coun­try. And this blow in its sever­i­ty exceeds all the dam­age that you can imag­ine, even if you assume that that deal with the Ministry of Internal Affairs was real­ly with criminals.

This is what I see all the time: there is a strug­gle between the state and some “evil” (in quotes, since it is not always evil), and the dam­age from this “evil” obvi­ous­ly orders of mag­ni­tude less than the dam­age from the side effect of fight­ing it. This is a sys­tem error. Try this on: you have a dis­ease, and you are tak­ing a med­i­cine that has guar­an­teed side effects that are orders of mag­ni­tude worse than the con­se­quences of the dis­ease. Is it normal?

Vsevolod and I com­mu­ni­cate and sup­port each oth­er. But our sit­u­a­tions are dif­fer­ent. Vsevolod Opanasenko’s is about eco­nom­ics, mine is about politics. 

SKIF-Aurora. Wikipedia

T-i: Who in Russia can work on super­com­put­ers now if you and Opanasenko are with­drawn from the game? 

SA: People in Sarov are doing some­thing, “behind the fence,” this is Rosatom. It is impos­si­ble to make nuclear weapons with­out super­com­put­ing. Just like a peace­ful atom or ther­monu­clear fusion. Yes, they have many oth­er tasks there.

And for the rest… Without seri­ous (I’m talk­ing about big mon­ey again) state sup­port, it will not be pos­si­ble to make nor­mal cars at the TOP-500 lev­el. Someone decid­ed that they could buy super­com­put­ers in the West or in China. Sberbank, Yandex, MTS, in fact, did just that: they bought sev­er­al of these machines. But this is a cor­po­rate sto­ry, not a gov­ern­ment super­com­put­er infra­struc­ture. And this hap­pened ear­li­er, in a dif­fer­ent situation.

Well, our team, like many oth­ers like it, switched to cre­at­ing sep­a­rate super­com­put­er tech­nolo­gies. That is, there is no mon­ey for large sys­tems at the TOP-500 lev­el - we are cre­at­ing sep­a­rate tech­nolo­gies that will allow us to remain at the fore­front, and when the state matures and gives mon­ey for a large project, we will try to be able to imple­ment it using our technologies.

We devel­op immer­sion cool­ing tech­nolo­gies for super­com­put­ers. Another direc­tion is domes­tic solu­tions for interconnection.

T-i: It turns out that the Lomonosovs are get­ting old, but they work, and there are no new ones any­more will it be?

SA: The first Lomonosov has been tak­en out of ser­vice, Lomonosov 2 is in ser­vice. They are both long-lived. But this­more of a prob­lem than an achieve­ment. Such machines are designed in such a way that, from an ener­gy point of view, after 5 years they waste too much ener­gy. And some­times it is more prof­itable to build a new sys­tem than to allow the old machine to func­tion. The same sit­u­a­tion was at SKIF MGU (Chebyshev), where I was the chief design­er, I also had a long-lived life. 

Will there be new sys­tems? I heard that about a year and a half ago, mon­ey was allo­cat­ed for new large projects of at least TOP-100 class. But what hap­pens to this plan today is unclear. The dol­lar exchange rate is already dif­fer­ent, and there are under­stand­able prob­lems with pur­chas­ing hard­ware for such a project. And in such con­di­tions, you need to muster great courage to take on a new project.

T-i: Are poten­tial per­form­ers afraid? Do they look at the exam­ples of Opanasenko and you?

SA: I think it’s scary to take on. Even our exam­ples are not impor­tant. How is it even pos­si­ble to work in our field today? Western solu­tions in terms of proces­sors and oth­er things are unclear how to obtain them on rea­son­able terms. With Chinese it is also not easy and unusu­al (if in every­day lan­guage, with­out tech­ni­cal details). Domestic proces­sors? - So far, only Taiwan has made their chips, and it strict­ly fol­lows the sanc­tions, as it seems. And this is only the first lay­er of problems.

Bringing a seri­ous chip through par­al­lel import is half the bat­tle. Each project at the TOP-500 lev­el (espe­cial­ly TOP-100) is not just a pur­chase of hard­ware. When every­thing was nor­mal, we didn’t just pur­chase, we com­mu­ni­cat­ed direct­ly with com­pa­nies. As an exam­ple: I had to com­mu­ni­cate with the vice pres­i­dents of Intel - we dis­cussed the project with them so that a cer­tain batch of proces­sors would be avail­able to us on time, so that they would fit it into their plans, so that there would be cor­rect prices and so that we would pro­mote the project togeth­er in the media. We were pro­vid­ed with warm engi­neer­ing sup­port in case of prob­lems. Engineering sup­port is crit­i­cal: such sys­tems are built on the newest, which means not ful­ly test­ed chips. And if prob­lems arose, our devel­op­ers and engi­neers from Intel (or AMD, or Mellanox, or NVIDIA, or Dolphin…) some­times com­mu­ni­cat­ed close­ly for hours and days (email, phone - the prob­lem must be solved). 

And now how to ensure all this? Will the vice pres­i­dent of Intel meet with the chief design­er of a large sys­tem from Russia? Other CEOs? I think no, they are not sui­cides. Well, that’s all.

A very small num­ber of coun­tries can afford to be a com­plete­ly self-suf­fi­cient coun­try pro­duc­ing super­com­put­ers. This is at first glance. But if you real­ly think about it, no one. And China is no excep­tion - I know for sure. Just like the USA. That is why we should not expect a seri­ous con­flict in the tri­an­gle of the USA, Taiwan, China. Even after the com­mis­sion­ing of the TSMC fac­to­ry in Arizona. And if such a con­flict hap­pens, it means some­one made a fatal mistake.

T-i: So you shot your­self in the foot?

SA: I’m afraid that Russia is shoot­ing itself not in the foot, but in the head. We are now expect­ing that China will soon build a new fac­to­ry where the chips will be only slight­ly worse than those from TSMC. And then, they hope, it will be pos­si­ble to try to trans­fer domes­tic proces­sors to that fac­to­ry. But there are two ques­tions: how easy the trans­fer will be; whether the Chinese fac­to­ry will take risks in terms of sec­ondary sanc­tions (or how much it will val­ue this risk). We must also take into account that our mar­ket is not very large for China.

Build your own fac­to­ry in Russia with decent tech­nol­o­gy? This requires inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion worse than when cre­at­ing the TOP-1 supercomputer. 

T-i: Vas was checked for trea­son, Now the FSB accus­es you of financ­ing extrem­ism. With what eyes do you read mate­ri­als about sci­en­tists who are accused of trea­son in batches?

SA: This is a sto­ry about “ana­loguenets”. Russia made noise about its hyper­son­ic tech­nolo­gies , about the unique and invul­ner­a­ble “Daggers”. And then it turns out that not every­thing is so sim­ple. Who allowed this to hap­pen? Who did­n’t pro­vide? I don’t know the details, but there is a sus­pi­cion that sci­en­tists are appoint­ed as “switch­men.” We need to some­how explain why our hyper­sound is not alwaysand this hyper? This means that there are ene­mies of the peo­ple who are to blame. So we need to find it. Found. I think they will con­tin­ue to search. And I’m tru­ly sor­ry for the sci­en­tists. This is also a sto­ry about the fact that the dam­age from the fight against “evil” (in quotes) is greater than the dam­age from “evil” itself.

Text: Evgeny Nasyrov, Olga Orlova

,   5.02.2024

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