Chinese Drones Support Russia’s War in Ukraine Despite Sanctions
Despite sanctions, the Kremlin is still deploying small unmanned Chinese aircraft in its war in Ukraine, a year after Western authorities sought to shut down the pipeline supplying Russia, according to customs data, Western officials, and security analysts. The drones are reportedly arriving from Russia and the United Arab Emirates, with some coming from Chinese firm Da-Jiang Innovations Science & Technology Co., known as DJI.
These Chinese drones are seen as providing the Kremlin with a more effective way to target Ukrainian forces. However, the deployment of these drones by Russia is causing concern for the US, as it is believed that China is using them to gather crucial battlefield intelligence, which could enhance Beijing's war readiness.
In addition to the export data, videos and pictures viewed by the Wall Street Journal show Russian fighters using DJI drones in Ukraine. Although DJI says it opposes the use of civilian drones on the battlefield and suspended business in Russia and Ukraine in April 2022, it claims that it cannot prevent users or organizations from purchasing in countries or regions other than Russia and Ukraine and then transshipping or gifting them to the countries.
Dutch authorities in September 2022 arrested Dmitri Alexeievitch Koudriavtsev for allegedly exporting goods to Russia in violation of international export controls. Trade data shows that Woerd-Tech BV, a company owned by Koudriavtsev, shipped at least $270,000 of export-controlled goods, including DJI drone parts, to Russia after the US and other Western allies imposed controls and sanctions.
Private paramilitary group Wagner, which fights alongside Russia’s official army, is reportedly reliant on DJI drones to plan and execute its operations. The group has been accused of using the Chinese drones to target rebel forces in Syria, as well. Despite the widespread use of Chinese drones by Russian forces, both China and Russia have remained silent on the issue.
The continued deployment of Chinese drones in the Ukrainian battlefield shows how Russia 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.