Hey, the Russians are using my drone in the Ukraine? WTF!
In addition to exporting that...err...the virus, the Chinese produce the world's best small drones. Anybody who produces video or still imagery in the US is probably using a drone produce by the same company supplying Putin, DJI. All those cool James Bond flicks use DJI drones. Woooo!
Ok, I'm starting to feel a little guilty right now. BTW, check out this cool shot I took in Crested Butte with my DJI Mavic III drone last fall!
Chinese Drones Still Support Russia’s War in Ukraine, Trade Data Show
Despite sanctions, Kremlin continues to deploy small unmanned Chinese aircraft
Drone technology is often bought by third parties and then shipped from China for use in Ukraine.
By Benoit Faucon, in Dubai and Ian Talley
in Washington, WSJ
Updated Feb. 18, 2023 10:01 am ET
More than a year after Western authorities sought to shut down the pipeline supplying Russia in its war in Ukraine, exports of small, nimble Chinese drones are still providing the Kremlin with an effective way to target Ukrainian forces, according to Western officials, security analysts and customs data.
Some of the commercial drones are arriving on the front lines from Russian distributors supplied by Shenzhen, China-based Da-Jiang Innovations Science & Technology Co., known as DJI, according to customs records, while others are transported through the United Arab Emirates.
Russia’s continued deployment of Chinese drones on the Ukrainian battlefield shows how its military has been able to draw critical items for its military from abroad, despite a wide-ranging Western pressure campaign intended to restrain Moscow’s ability to continue the war. The Pentagon worries that these drones aren’t only fueling Russia’s war effort, but also are allowing China to gather crucial battlefield intelligence that might enhance Beijing’s war readiness.
“As DJI and China watch the use of drones in a combat environment, they’re just soaking up data, a senior U.S. security official said. “They’re able to see the TTPs, the tactics, techniques and procedures,” the person said, including how the drones respond to electronic-warfare attacks.
“Because China has the civil-military fusion, they’re able to then put that in the hands of the PLA and learn,” the official said, referring to the People’s Liberation Army.
Chinese quadcopters, small unmanned helicopters with four rotors, have been a concern for the Pentagon since early in the war in Ukraine. The drones, which are used for both civilian and military purposes, are often bought by third parties and then shipped from China.
The Wall Street Journal viewed Russian customs records provided by ImportGenius, a trade database firm, and C4ADS, a Washington-based nonprofit that specializes in identifying national-security threats.
In a statement, DJI said it opposes the use of civilian drones on the battlefield, pointing to its suspension of business in Russia and Ukraine in April last year.
“However, as consumer electronics, DJI products can be purchased in e-commerce stores and stores in many countries,” the firm said. “We cannot prevent users or organizations from purchasing in countries or regions other than Russia and Ukraine, and then transship or gift them to Russia and Ukraine.”
China’s Embassy in Washington, responding to a request for comment for this article, referred to its Foreign Ministry’s position on the war in Ukraine, which has called for de-escalation and negotiations. Russia’s ministries of defense and foreign affairs didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.
In addition to the export data, dozens of videos and pictures viewed by the Journal show Russian fighters using DJI drones in Ukraine.
In a video posted in June, a group of gun-toting, khaki-clad, pro-Russian volunteers in southern Ukraine said they were about to receive “heroic shuttles”—a term for DJI drones—from the United Arab Emirates paid through the sanctioned state-bank Sberbank. The bank didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a social-media posting, Konstantin Kuznetsov, a gun dealer in Orenburg, Russia, who supplies the Russian military, said DJI drones are normally being bought in the Persian Gulf nation for 500,000 Russian rubles, the equivalent of about $6,800—much higher than market prices.
Some drones and drone parts were delivered through the European Union after the war started, according to trade data and the Dutch government.
Dutch authorities in September arrested Dmitri Alexeievitch Koudriavtsev for allegedly exporting goods to Russia in violation of international export controls. Federal prosecutors in the Netherlands said Mr. Koudriavtsev, the Dutch-Russian owner of Woerd-Tech BV, shipped the type of drones used by the Kremlin’s military.
Trade data show that Woerd-Tech shipped at least $270,000 of export-controlled goods, including DJI drone parts, to Russia after the U.S. and other Western allies imposed controls and sanctions.
“By his actions the defendant knowingly contributed to Russian acts of violence against not only the Ukrainian army but also the civilian population,” Lenny Beijerbergen, spokesman for the Netherlands’ Public Prosecution Service, told the Journal.
Mr. Koudriavtsev, contacted through his lawyer, declined to comment.
Wagner, a private paramilitary group fighting alongside Russia’s official army, has become reliant on DJI drones to plan and execute its operations, said Ukrainian journalist Yuri Butusov. “Drones are used both to identify targets and for command and control of the assault,” Mr. Butusov wrote on Censor.net, a blog he edits.
Wagner and the GRU, Russia’s military-intelligence directorate, used Chinese quadcopters to target rebel forces in Syria, said Gleb Irisov, a former Russian air force officer who was deployed in the Middle East country after Moscow sided with the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
In response to a request for comment on Wagner’s alleged use of drones, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s founder, referred to past statements denying that the group operates with the Russian military. He didn’t address the question of the use of drones.
Brett Forrest contributed to this article.