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China helps resupply drones to Russia


China has sent more than $12 million worth of drones to Russia since it invaded Ukraine. The Biden administration vowed last month to crack down on companies selling critical technologies to Russia as part of its efforts to curb the country's war against Ukraine. But the continued flow of Chinese drones into the country explains why it will be difficult. Although drone sales have declined, US policies put in place after the Russian invasion have failed to curb exports of these unman

The Biden administration vowed last month to crack down on companies selling critical technologies to Russia as part of its efforts to curb the country's war against Ukraine.

But the

continued flow of

Chinese drones into the country explains why it will be difficult.

Although drone sales have declined, US policies put in place after the Russian invasion have failed to curb exports of these unmanned aerial vehicles that act as eyes in the sky for frontline fighters.

In the year since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, China has sold more than

$12 million worth of

drones and drone parts to the country, according to official Russian customs data from a third-party data provider.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping meet at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Monday.

Photo. Press Office of the Russian Presidency, via Associated Press

It is difficult to determine if the Chinese drones contain US technologies that would violate US regulations or if they are legal.

The shipments, a mix of products from


the world's best-known drone maker, and a number of smaller companies, often came via

small middlemen and exporters.

Convoluted sales channels and vague product descriptions in export data also make it difficult to definitively demonstrate the presence of US components in Chinese products, which could constitute a violation of US export controls.

And the official sales are likely just one part of a larger flow of technologies through

unofficial channels

and other Russian-friendly nations such as

Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Belarus.

The result is a steady supply of new drones to Russia arriving on the front lines of its war with Ukraine.

On the battlefield, gliding quadcopters typically last only a few flights before disappearing from the sky.

Replenishing stocks of the most basic UAVs has become as critical an issue as other basic needs, such as the acquisition of artillery shells and bullets.


Militarily, diplomatically and economically, Beijing has become an increasingly important supporter of Russia in its war effort.

China has remained one of the biggest buyers of Russian oil, helping to finance the invasion.

Both sides have also held joint military exercises and have jointly attacked NATO.

As Chinese top leader Xi Jinping meets Russian President

Vladimir Putin

this week , US officials have warned that China is still considering selling lethal weapons for use in Ukraine.

A DJI store in Beijing.

Photo .Jade Gao/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images

Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

said Monday that the visit amounts to "diplomatic cover for Russia to continue committing" war crimes.

US efforts to insulate Russia from much-needed technology and money have been complicated by Chinese dominance of the global electronics supply chain.

In recent years, the United States has

tried to undermine

the position of some Chinese companies through export controls, but the world remains heavily dependent on city-sized assembly plants and groups of specialized component manufacturers. from China.

The country's dominant role has made it difficult to understand and control foreign products that are incorporated into basic but essential consumer electronics such as drones, which can be made from widely available components sold in retail stores.

"It poses a challenge for export control: The same model can be used by real estate agents to inspect properties and can be used in Ukraine for intelligence purposes," said William A. Reinsch, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International


at Washington and a former Commerce Department official who oversaw export controls.

"They are not the most sophisticated technology in the world, it is not inevitable that they contain US chips," he added, noting that if there are no US components in the drones, shipments become a political issue, not a legal one


Especially troublesome for the US government is DJI, the maker of hovering quadcopter drones that have become emblematic of a new kind of warfare in Ukraine.

Sales of its drones to Russia have continued, even though it has said it has suspended shipments to both Russia and Ukraine.

The company is already subject to export controls by the United States.

The Commerce Department added DJI to a blacklist in 2020 that prevents US companies from selling technology without express permission.

The move has done little to affect DJI's dominance in the industry, and the company's products accounted for nearly half of Chinese drone shipments to Russia, according to customs data.

A portion of them were sold directly by DJI, through iFlight Technology, a DJI subsidiary.

In all, nearly 70 Chinese exporters have sold 26 different brands of Chinese drones to Russia since the invasion.

The second best-selling brand was Autel, a Chinese drone manufacturer with subsidiaries in the United States, Germany and Italy;

exporters sold nearly $2 million worth of their drones, with the last batch shipped last month.

On its website, the company advertises sales to US police forces.

A DJI spokesperson said the company could not find any records of direct sales to Russia since April 16, 2022, and that it would investigate other companies that appeared to be selling to Russia.

The company, he said, has halted all shipments and operations in Russia and Ukraine since the start of the war and has

"extensive protocols"

in place to ensure it does not violate US sanctions.

"Like any consumer electronics company with products sold in many different electronics stores, we cannot influence how all of our products are used once they leave our control," the spokesperson added in an emailed statement.

Autel said in an emailed statement that it was not aware of any sales to Russia and was conducting an internal investigation into the matter.

Though popular for years with photo enthusiasts and tourists, hovering quadcopter drones are now a major asset to Russian and Ukrainian troops on the front lines, who use them for battlefield reconnaissance.

They need to be resupplied regularly as both sides are

shooting down

the drones with increasing efficiency.

Ukraine has relied on drone donations from third-party organizations and individuals, which has meant that its troops are also using DJI drones on the front lines.

Advisers estimate that about half of Ukrainian troop reserves are made up of Ukrainian drones and the other half are foreign, mostly made by DJI.

In lieu of donations, Russia has been able to buy a steady, if not massive, supply of drones from China.

Direct sales by Chinese exporters, industry experts say, are just one part of a broader effort to procure the drones in nearby markets, where they can be bought off the shelves of retail stores.

Some experts say the flow of Chinese drones should be viewed in the same way as the flow of deadlier weapons.

Even the meager $12 million in shipments "will move the needle of what's happening on the front lines," said Cole Rosentreter, chief executive of Canadian drone maker Pegasus, which has advised the Ukrainians on the use of drones during the war. .

"We are back to industrial-scale warfare; both sides now treat drones the same as artillery shells, because whoever has the logistical base to outmaneuver the other has a clear battlefield advantage," he added.

In this sense, even Xi's tacit support for new drone shipments could be a long-term advantage for Russian troops.

It has already been difficult to fully control the shipment of high-tech components like the ones that go on drones.

Chinese companies that supply Russia, whether by political calculation or economic incentives, sometimes use chains of intermediary companies that can include more than a dozen firms.

In other cases, shipment descriptions may be intentionally vague or underestimate the total volume of merchandise being shipped.

"What we've seen from the Chinese are high-level statements about wanting to end the war, but behind the scenes they have used the opportunity to seize trade channels that previously went through Europe and the United States," says James Hodson, a member of the Yermak-McFaul International Expert Group on Russian Sanctions and executive director of the

AI ​​for Good Foundation.

Often, he said, the goal of sanctions is not to kill off shipments, but to cut off "90% of the blood flow."

"It's going to be very difficult to completely amputate the flow.

But it is worrying that in some cases it is as if nothing is being blocked," he said.

c.2023 The New York Times Company

look also

Xi Jinping in Russia: a visit that destroys any peace attempt in Ukraine

Why China and Russia are closer than ever

Source: clarin

All news articles on 2023-03-22

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