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DJI Sending Consumer Drones To Russia For Use In War With Ukraine

DJI the world’s biggest maker of drones including both commercial and consumers drones is today well and truly in the US spotlight, after it was revealed that Russia has for months been importing drones from Chinese companies to use in their fight with Ukraine.

These are the same droners that are widely sold in Australia via the likes of Harvey Norman and JB Hi Fi.

Nikkei Asia has for several weeks been running an investigation that exposed several Russian companies as having been quietly filling out customs paperwork for the import of drones, including drones manufactured by U.S.-sanctioned DJI, China’s biggest drone maker.

The drones were even market in customs documentation as being for ‘use in the war’.

In December 2021, the U.S. government added the drone manufacturer, as well as numerous other Chinese firms, to its economic blacklist.

DJI is well known for their unethical practises.

The Chinese drone maker was originally blacklisted in the USA because of its alleged involvement in the surveillance of Uighur Muslims, an ethnic minority in China’s Xinjiang region.

Investigations now reveal that Russian sourced consumer drones are being deployed in the war and that between December 2022 and April 2023, Russian companies imported at least 37 Chinese unmanned aerial vehicles worth around $103,000 according to Nikki Asia.

Custom records reveal that the shipments were marked as being “for use in the special military operation,” the Russian government’s name for the Ukraine war.

This is despite a so-called agreement that China would not allow the import of goods for use in the war.

Nikkei also found that Russian companies paid Chinese counterparts more than US$1.2 million for 22 devices that detect and jam drones, and another $36,077 for 10 “rugged” portable personal computers believed to be from Acer.

All were designated in customs records for use in the war.

Since the beginning of the invasion 16 months ago, Beijing has repeatedly denied providing weapons to Moscow for use in the invasion.

Beijing has denied that China is exporting drones for use in military operations.

“China calls on all relevant parties to work together to strengthen controls, prevent all types of drones from being used on battlefields in conflict areas, and jointly promote international peace and regional stability,” a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Commerce said in April 2023.

Nikkei obtained the Russian customs records from multiple sources, including Indian companies Exim Trade Data and Export Genius, and analysed shipments from China to Russia.

In November, the Federal Customs Service of Russia said on its official website that the agency would expedite and simplify the release of “dual-use goods and civilian products intended to support the combat and daily activities of Russian military units.”

Drones “should be a must-have for combat units, platoons, companies and battalions,” Putin told Défense officials in December, according to a Kremlin transcript.

DJI are not alone in supplying drones.

In one case, on Feb. 1, Russian information technology company Status Compliances imported three drones, with take-off weights of between 25 kg and 150 kg, from Shenzhen Kexin Smart Development, an electronic devices manufacturer in Shenzhen, for $28,292. This is the same Company whose drones are being used by commercial operations in Australia.

They were made by Shenzhen Jarch Electromechanical Technology, according to Exim Trade Data.

From March 2022 to May 2023, China exported at least 30,000 drones to Russia, worth over $32 million, according to China’s official customs data.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during his visit to Beijing last month that the U.S. has “ongoing concerns” that Chinese companies may be providing technology that Russia can use in its aggression against Ukraine and said he had urged his Chinese counterparts to be vigilant.

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