How China supplies drones to Russia

28 February 2024 15 minutes Author: Cyber Witcher

The company iFlight, which is related to the well-known drone manufacturer DJI, has announced that it will stop supplying its drones to Ukraine and russia. Nevertheless, there are reports that the supply of drones to russia still continues using various workarounds. This applies only to the Ukrainian market, while russia receives equipment despite the sanctions. The publication discusses the details of these schemes and mentions that there are other supply channels in addition to traditional allies in the form of Iran.

War of drones: where the wings of Russian drones grow from

Drones in modern armies are changing approaches to warfare. In particular, as Kyrylo Budanov stated, drones actually nullified the use of armored vehicles at the front.

Meanwhile, DJI claims to be neutral. Supposedly they don’t sell drones to countries at war. However, the real picture turns out to be somewhat different. Ukraine’s difficulties with access to advanced drones are only growing, while Russia, despite official restrictions, receives these drones through bypass channels.

There is evidence that Russia is buying Mavic drones. Currently, the terrorist state is creating a network of schools for the training of UAV pilots on its territory. These schools teach, among other things, how to operate DJI Mavic drones. This drone was designed for civilian use, but can be easily adapted for military missions. With such technology in hand, Russia can pose a threat not only to Ukraine, but also to all neighboring countries, and modern drones such as the DJI Mavic have many advantages – from cost to tactical flexibility on the battlefield. Drones can detect enemy positions from a distance and deliver precision strikes, thus reducing the risk to the lives of military personnel. These qualities make modern UAVs indispensable for the military. That is why volunteers often collect funds to provide the Armed Forces of Ukraine with new UAVs. If the supply of UAVs is an unresolved and constantly discussed problem for Ukraine, then where will the UAVs in the Russian arsenal come from?

Where do Russian drone pilots study?

Analysts discovered numerous educational institutions that train drone pilots, technicians and engineers. In this publication, we will focus on the largest of them.

  • “NPO “Avanti Group” LLC (NPO “Avanti Group” LLC)

Avanti Education is the sponsor of the competition in robotics and education for children under its own program. In May 2023, the legal entity “GK Avanti” LLC was opened for “scientific research and development in the field of natural and technical sciences”. This KVED is most often used by legal entities to cooperate with Russian military organizations. Training takes place at the following addresses: Russia, Moscow, Krasnopresnenka Embankment. 12, office 924B (yandex map). And also in the city of Innopolis, str. 7 University Street, approx. 602 (yandex map).

One of the places where UAV pilots are trained in Moscow. Krasnopresnenska Embankment, 12
The city of Innopolis in Tatarstan. Another school of Russian UAV pilots is located there
  • LLC “Nebesnaya Mekhanika” (ToV “Nebesnaya Mekhanika”)

According to the site, this company is a distributor of DJI drones in the Russian Federation. Among their clients, they name Russian state structures in particular. We are talking about the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service, Ministry of Emergency Situations. They have an office in Uzbekistan and their own training center for UAV pilots. Training is conducted on DJI drones.

Screenshot from the “Celestial Mechanics” website. List of drones used for training

The probable address of the center is Moscow, str. Luzhnetsk embankment, (yandex map);

Probable address of the training center “Heavenly Mechanics”, Moscow st. Luzhnetsk embankment
  • Vozdukh LLC (Vozdukh LLC)

They have an Aeromotus Education training center, where they train UAV operators, and in particular, operators of (1, 2) DJI drones). The course is designed for 72 hours.

Additional KVED LLCs include:

  • professional education;

  • additional education of children and adults;

  • activities of aircraft and watercraft training schools.

In May 2022, they received a license for educational activities. The website states that on 05/06/2022, a specialized educational unit of the educational center was created. Address of the educational center: Russia, Moscow, 42 Varshavske shosse, floor 6, room 27 (yandex map).

The location of the training center of “Vozdukh” LLC is Moscow, Varshavske Shosse, 42
  • Educational center “Pustelga”

TG: @aucpustelga

The contact is the user with the nickname @djiborz and the id 1661522905 (interests, groups, including DJI’s RusDrone and “Movie Workers – Abroad”). At first, the profile name was Evgeny, then Boris.

Their TG channel was created on April 26. In the first post, it is said that the instructors of the center have already launched 2 centers in the combat zone in Ukraine. On May 4, the post included photos of 18 people with the caption that it was the first release in April (1, 2). One of the following posts states that the training center has been open since March. And during March-April, it has already trained 30 pilots and instructors, the center is engaged in the training of personnel and mobilized military personnel of the Russian Armed Forces, the Russian Guard and specialists of other power structures of the Russian Federation. In the post dated May 5, they were looking for investors. In the video, in one of the posts, a man in a military uniform and with a “Russian Army” chevron receives a diploma in the center (1, 2, 3, 4).

According to, the Russian Guard, in cooperation with the “Pustelga” training center, launched a training course for drone pilots who can go to war in Ukraine. According to the article, as of June 2023, the first group of FPV drone pilots has already been trained in the military units of the Russian Guard in the Moscow region. In addition to pilots, FPV instructors are also being trained for the troops fighting in Ukraine. The training period is four weeks. Training of instructors continues for another month. The training program includes work in the field, in the forest and in confined space conditions.

Operators learn to attack moving vehicles. A post on the TG channel dated May 25, 2023 shows an iFlight drone next to a weapon and states: “Our graduates will soon receive these drones in the direction of Zaporizhzhia and will effectively combine them with new standard ammunition. We will support our graduates as much as possible not only with training, but and in word, deed and equipment”.

Publication from the Telegram channel of the Russian school of UAV pilots “Pustelga”

In a post dated May 14, it is indicated that the training takes place on Mavic drones, manufactured by a subsidiary of DJI (1, 2). The June 2, 2023 post has a photo from a practice training center where operators learn to repair drones (1, 2).

In another publication, Pustelga confirms that graduates of their school are going to war in Ukraine

There is also a post about the fact that instructors-graduates of “Pustelga” have already released their groups of drone operators who are going to war in Ukraine (1, 2). In the same post, the training center requests sponsors to ask the center for UAV specifications before purchasing drones, indicating that the center uses certain brands of drones.

  • School of drone pilots “SHUBBA-Octagon”

This institution is probably related to the “Wagner” PVC. In April 2023, this drone pilot school appeared on the Russian classifieds site Avito. She offers drone pilot training services. Locations: Kursk, Voronezh, Belgorod, Rostov, Bryansk, Smolensk, Novgorod, Pskov, Leningrad regions and the city of St. Petersburg. The Avito website states that the details and contacts of the school have been verified, and there is even one positive review. The website of the “SHUBBA-Octagon” school (shubba-oktagon.rf) was registered on February 27, 2023, the Yandex tracker number is 92506762.

The school’s website states that training is conducted on drones, which are also used in the war in Ukraine. According to the post, pilots are taught to fly on “maviks”, which, as a reminder, Iflight “does not supply to countries at war” (1, 2).

In the telegram “SHUBBA-Octagon” they write that they teach pilots to fly on the DJI Mavic

It is also indicated on the website that the training will help to obtain the military specialty “Airplane Pilot”. One of the photos shows a drone with a projectile, on the boards there are schematics of weapons. The drone motor is marked “1800kv”. There is a similar inscription on the motors of the XING UAV produced by iFlight.

According to the site, the training ground is located in St. Petersburg. The photos from the site were probably taken at the “Wagner Center” (1, 2). The picture from the training center also includes a person in a military uniform with the call sign “Svyatay” and a separate set of this military uniform next to the Syrian flag. In the TG channel school it is indicated that instructors with the callsigns “Svyatoy”, “Volnyk”, and “Yuny” (1, 2) work there. Those “Svyatoy” and “Volnyk” received the state award of the Russian Federation – the medal “For Courage” (1, 2 “Svyatoy” served in the General Staff of the Russian Federation, OMOP and PVK (1, 2, 3), and “Volnyk” – in OMOP and PVK (1, 2).

The school administrator was not found. However, the legal entity LLC “Positron” (TOV “Positron”), related to Yevgeny Prigozhin, has certificates of conformity for DJI drones and, according to the article, imported DJI drones to the Russian Federation.

Also, according to one of the posts on the school’s TG channel, in November 2022, a design bureau from St. Petersburg created the Hortensia combat drone, which became the first mass-produced FPV drone (1, 2). It is stated that as of July 2023, over 2k drones have been sent to the front. The production capacity is 120 pieces per day and 3k pieces per month. In a post dated July 14, 2023, it is written that KB sent 450 drones to one of the large customers. You can order a batch simply through the bot gortenzia_fpv_bot. The photo from the drone manufacturing post has details similar to the XING drone manufactured by iFlight (1, 2, 3, 4).

How are the Russians using Chinese drones in the war against Ukraine?

On June 9, 2023, the commander of aerial reconnaissance of the “Birds of Magyar” group – Robert “Magyar” Brovdi – published a video, which recorded the use of iFlight drones by the Russians. “Magyar” called on the EU and the USA to impose sanctions on this company.

Screenshots from the video of the Russian military. In the picture you can see the logo of the Iflight company on the drone

The next day, on June 10, DJI released a statement (1, 2) saying it does not sell drones to countries at war. This was not the company’s first statement about “neutrality”. Ukrainian activist Serhiy Sternenko, who repeatedly opened and closed meetings on drones, immediately reacted to the company’s statement.

At the same time, other Ukrainian volunteers stated that there are difficulties in procurement. Sometimes drones are bought literally from the hands of the Russians. This was written by a Twitter user under the nickname cheskeradio.

According to the 52WMB platform, iFlight can be used to export military drones from related companies such as Mavic. In addition, according to the information of the same platform, the supply of drones to Russia took place throughout 2022 – these supplies were carried out by the company Aymetro LLC (Aymetro LLC). In total, IFlight carried out 1,636 trade operations. The last one is 10/31/2022. 1,577 transactions were made with Nebesnaya Mekhanika LLC (Nebesna Mekhanika LLC). Also, during 2022, the company sold drones and components to LLC Haskel (TOV Haskel) and to private entrepreneur Mikhail Aleksandrovich Maligaev.

In February 2023, a Wall Street Journal investigation found that, despite several official statements from iFlight, drones continue to be secretly supplied to the Russian military with the help of Chinese, Middle Eastern and European collaborators. The investigation revealed that DJI drones were transmitting data to the Russian military command in Moscow, which was then distributed to ground forces participating in the war in Ukraine. At the same time, the company’s new policy created difficulties for Ukraine in the field of procurement. In other words, although there were no significant changes for Russia, iFlight created additional obstacles for Ukrainian purchases.

However, in addition to UAVs, Chinese manufacturers are actively supplying Russia with components for UAVs.

For example, in 2017, IFlight Technologies Co.Ltd. purchased aircraft and video cameras from Russian LLC “Fora” (ToV “Fora”). Then, in 2019, it purchased 14 devices from the Russian supplier LLC “Continent” (TOV “Continent”) for $5,390. And from November 2021 to February 2022, I bought components for drones from the Russian LLC “Nebesnaya Mekhanika” (ToV “Nebesna Mekhanika”).

How are sanctioned goods brought to Russia?

The first option – Russians open a business in another country and register a company there. This newly created company buys the goods it needs to order and re-exports them to Russia. Such companies are often established in China or Turkey, where international trade is active. For electronics, China and Hong Kong are most often used; The UAE, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Uzbekistan are also used as registration countries. When Armenian companies order large consignments of goods, they transport them to Russia via Iran, and from Iran to Astrakhan via the Caspian Sea, as there is no land border between Armenia and Russia.

The second option is even simpler — during import, the intermediary — the logistics company — is first indicated in the customs invoice, and then, through c/o (in care of), the real sender — the DJI legal entity — is indicated. For example: helios global logistics (shanghai) limited c/o dji europe b.v. Also, instead of the letter J, they indicate L – dli europe b.v. c/o atc air service ltd. Having replaced one letter in this way, the shipment is already sent as if on behalf of another company.

In China, customers from the Russian Federation can order goods without intermediaries, as there are banks that accept payments from the Russian Federation. However, when you need to order goods from the USA or Europe, a company is opened, most often in Hong Kong, with a Chinese beneficiary.

Another scheme involves the importation of goods through China due to the “refusal” of the owner. A Chinese company orders a product for its own use or to ship from another country, such as the United States. The goods arrive at Shekou or Guangzhou port. The ship arrives at the port, and the Chinese company “suddenly” decides that it has found another buyer, or may abandon the cargo in favor of another buyer. Then right at the port, the cargo is transshipped into another container and re-exported to Vladivostok or Sakhalin, from where it is delivered by rail to a real Russian buyer. It is important that all this work is done before the goods pass through the duty-free zone, that is, before they cross the border and leave the port.

iFlight — neutrality hanging in the air?

iFlight Technology Company Limited is a company that manufactures drones such as Defender, Nazgul, Chimera7, Taurus, Rabbitfilms. They also sell spare parts and components: joysticks, glasses for controlling drones, chargers and batteries, and other parts. In addition, IFlight is a key player in the field of drones and fully (1, 2) owns another well-known drone manufacturer, DJI. They, in turn, also produce the famous Mavic drones. These manufacturers can be called one of the leaders in the production of FPV and components for them.

At the end of 2022, iFlight created a European branch – iFlight-RC Europe (1). Company representative Patrick “Xing” Klimek has moved to Austria. One of the reasons for this move may be the legitimization of the activity. That is, in this way, being in Europe, the company tries to ensure the trust of European consumers. Or even simplify the possibilities for re-export of sanctioned goods to Russia.

Some drones manufactured by iFlight

These are just a few examples of drones that iFlight sells. These devices combine compactness, ease of use and advanced technologies. In a way, iFlight is setting trends in the drone world with these drones.

However, the world of politics is a completely different matter. According to iFlight, on June 10, 2023, (1, 2) stated that their drones are for civilian use only and that they will not sell them to countries at war. In fact, this turned out not to be the case.

Deanon of managers: curators of the drone industry in Russia

A total of 10 legal entities were identified. In fact, there may be many more as well. Of those discovered, 9 supplied IFlight/DJI drones to the Russian Federation in 2022-2023. These are the following companies: LLC “Esta”, LLC “Entep”, LLC “Global Key”, LLC “NPO “Avanti Group”, LLC “Aimetro”, LLC “Vozdukh”, LLC “Letatelnye bespilotnye sistemy”, LLC “Nebesnaya Mechanika”, Positron LLC (related to Yevgeny Prigozhin). Let’s consider some of the managers of these enterprises.

The investigation revealed a number of companies that circumvented sanctions and supplied Chinese drones and their components to Russia. There are so many of them that it is impossible to list them all in this article, but for each company there is strong evidence of cooperation with the Chinese manufacturer IFlight. In addition to supplying illegal imports, these companies actively organize training courses for Russians on UAV control. Then these Russians are sent to Ukraine.

The role of drones in the Russian-Ukrainian war

The importance of unmanned aerial vehicles is becoming increasingly evident against the background of the conflict in which Ukraine is resisting Russian aggression. However, the actions of companies that, on the one hand, insist on stopping UAV deliveries to the conflict zone, and on the other hand, avoid their own obligations, create additional risks for the national security of Ukraine.

Open data indicate that the ban on the sale of UAVs is being circumvented: the situation around UAVs is only the tip of the iceberg, and global companies must be held accountable for their actions and decisions in the context of a global conflict. Ukraine deserves support, and companies that play two-sided games deserve only international condemnation.

The information was taken from Molfar open sources

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