Chinese drone pauses operations in Russia and Ukraine

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The world’s largest commercial drone-maker DJI has suspended all business activities in Russia and Ukraine.

Since the start of the war, Ukraine has urged the company to take steps to stop its drones being used by Russia.

The Chinese firm said the decision was not a statement about any country, and its drones are not for military use.

But Taras Troiak, chairman of the Ukrainian Federation of UAV Owners, told he doubted it would stop Russia’s military using DJI drones.

He said that stores’ supplies of drones might run out in a few months but, in his opinion, they could be easily smuggled into Russia from China.

The drones are being used by Russia’s military for short-range reconnaissance, he says. In Mr. Troiak’s view they are used “to look around, to find any soldiers around and to make sure that nobody is very close to you”.

He added: “If they want to take, for example, a building or a factory, they can use the drones to find Ukrainian soldiers on the territory.”

Mr. Troiak said he understood that DJI wished to appear neutral in the conflict, but he felt supply should be cut to Russia and not to Ukraine.

“Because we are protecting our country. And we are using all sorts of civilian cars, civilian mobile phones and civilian drones. So that is not because we want to use the drones in military use, but actually, we don’t have any other choice.”

DJI told that military use of its equipment is against its principles.

Significant step

The suspension of operations by the world’s largest commercial drone-maker is unusual for a major Chinese company.

China has sought to remain neutral on the conflict, calling for a peaceful solution. But it has yet to condemn the Russian invasion.

“DJI is internally reassessing compliance requirements in various jurisdictions. Pending the current review, DJI will temporarily suspend all business activities in Russia and Ukraine,” it said in a statement.

In March, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, tweeted DJI to say: “Block your products that are helping Russia to kill the Ukrainians.”

An open letter attached to the tweet alleged that Russia was using DJI drones to help target missiles, and the company replied to stress its products were only for civilian use.

It said that if Ukraine requested, it would turn on geofencing – a system that restricts where drones may operate, to prevent any DJI drone – whether Russian or Ukrainian – operating in the country.

But it warned the system was not “foolproof”.

Not for combat

Mr. Troiak shared with a link to a video apparently produced by Russian forces, which purports to show a drone used in combat in Mariupol. DJI’s logo is visible on the controller.

DJI says it does not:

market or sell its products for military use

provide after-sales services for products that have been identified as being used for military purposes

customise or enable modifications that would enable its products for military use

A DJI spokesperson told: “We are concerned about the reported military use of our products as we stated on 21 April 2022.”

They said the suspension of operations was “a statement about our principles”.

“DJI has only ever made products for civilian use. They are not designed for military applications.

“Such use is against our principles and has potential legal compliance implications,” the spokesperson added.

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