Since Russia invaded Ukraine, China has supplied Moscow with more than $12 million worth of drones, demonstrating the growing cooperation between the two nations despite US threats to take action against Chinese companies, it reported—the New York Times.

The report noted that the shipments included products from DJI – a well-known manufacturer of drones around the world – and products from various smaller companies, often through small middlemen and exporters.

The study cites official Russian customs data from a third-party data provider in noting that US precautions enacted after the Russian incursion failed to prevent UAV exports.

American parts in the Chinese drones?

It is also difficult to establish whether there are US components in Chinese products, which could be in violation of US export regulations. This is mainly due to complicated sales channels and ambiguous product descriptions in export data.

In addition, formal purchases may represent only a small portion of a much bigger flow of technologies through unofficial methods and neighboring nations such as Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Belarus.

China officially sends drones to Russia
File Image: Chinese Mugin Drone

Thus, Russia continues to get more drones, which are subsequently deployed to the front lines of its confrontation with Ukraine. China has become an increasingly vital military, diplomatic, and economic ally for Russia’s war effort.

The world remains heavily dependent on China’s factories and clusters of specialized component manufacturers, despite recent US attempts to undermine some Chinese companies through export bans.

Thus, China’s global electronics supply chain dominance has made it more difficult for the United States to leave Russia without crucial technology and financing.

DJI drones keep coming to Russia

Quadcopter drone maker DJI has raised particular difficulties with the US government. The ability of DJI drones to be easily adapted to carry out various activities has led to their increasing use in today’s warfare.

The company is already subject to US export control. In 2020, the Commerce Department added DJI to a list of companies prohibited from selling technology without specific approval in the United States.

According to customs data, the move did not affect DJI’s dominance in the drone business. The company’s products accounted for nearly half of all Chinese drone shipments to Russia.

Chinese drones in Russia

Since the invasion, some 70 Chinese exporters have sold 26 different types of Chinese drones to Russia, The New York Times added. Autel, a Chinese drone manufacturer, was the second best-selling brand; the exporters sold about $2 million of their drones, with the most recent batch delivered in February 2023.

Autel has subsidiaries in the United States, Germany, and Italy. For its part, DJI previously claimed that it had ceased all its operations and shipments to Russia and Ukraine since the start of the conflict and that it has “extensive protocols” in place to ensure it does not breach US sanctions.

With drones being shot down with increasing efficiency by both sides, these consumer UAVs require regular resupply. Because Ukraine relies on drone donations from organizations and individuals, its soldiers also use DJI drones in combat.

China officially sends drones to Russia.
Drones DJI

Foreign drones, mainly DJIs, are believed to make up almost half of the Ukrainian arsenals. According to some analysts, the proliferation of Chinese drones should be viewed like that of more lethal weaponry.

Chinese companies selling UAVs to Russia may use intermediary chains that include up to a dozen different firms for commercial or political reasons. In other cases, shipment descriptions may be deliberately ambiguous or understate the total quantity of goods shipped.

Xi Jinping visits Moscow

On March 21, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Vladimir Putin in Moscow for diplomatic talks, where he played the role of mediator while pushing a peace plan to end Russia’s involvement in Ukraine’s conflict. The United States has criticized the proposal, saying it is a prejudiced attempt to protect the Kremlin leader during the ongoing invasion of his country.

Putin backed Xi Jinping’s call for a “peaceful settlement in Ukraine” in a show of mutual support in the Kremlin that suggested the possibility of a strengthened anti-Western bulwark globally.

However, Western lawmakers argued that China’s offer, which called for a truce and talks but did not mention Moscow withdrawing its troops from Ukrainian soil, was drafted without Kyiv’s help.