How Russian manufacturer of Orlan drones imports equipment evading sanctions – leaked mails

Russia can still receive Western electronics for its drones used in the war against Ukraine. Sanctioned companies purchase electronics, microchips, and other parts through third countries and shell companies. InformNapalm’s investigative team in Ukraine has shed light on how this happens based on leaked emails.

Spetsialnyi Tekhnologicheskiy Tsentr produces Orlan UAVs for Russian army

The Russian company Spetsialnyi Tekhnologicheskiy Tsentr LLC (Special Technology Center) manufactures drones for the Russian army using Western parts and thus plays an important role in supporting Putin’s war against Ukraine. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, the EU, and Ukraine have already sanctioned the company.

However, Spetsialnyi Tekhnologicheskiy Tsentr manages to continue to purchase Western spare parts for its production, in particular from Germany, circumventing all of the Western sanctions against Russia.

The Russian company Spetsialnyi Tekhnologicheskiy Tsentr, based in St. Petersburg, has been developing software and hardware for more than 20 years, operating in the Russian and international markets of measuring and telecommunications equipment and cellular and satellite communications.

The company produces Orlan-10 UAVs and Bars radio source direction-finding systems. The Russian invading forces use these drones to wage war against Ukraine.

It is no secret that they produce special military equipment. They declare this on their website, and both satellite images and data from the documentation obtained by hackers confirm it.

For example, contracts for the supply of components explicitly state that the STC fulfills the state defense order. The Russian aggressor state finances everything, so suppliers open a separate bank account, following the usual practice of budget financing.

Russian companies bypass sanctions to import Western and Chinese electronics for its production

Despite the sanctions, STC continues to manufacture its products, increasing the volume of components through intermediary companies.

To keep production going, STC needs a lot of foreign-made components. For example, let’s look at one of the simplest products assembled by Russians. The 8th Combined Arms Army of the Russian Armed Forces receives a cargo hexacopter.

T-Motor, a Chinese company, manufactures the propeller and engine. China’s Radiolink Electronic Limited manufactures the flight controller and GPS module. Lenovo laptops and a Sony camera. Components and spare parts are quite easy to get to Russia.

Of course, the Russian Federation tries to buy more Chinese products, as they are less problematic, especially when China is covertly helping the Russian Federation in every way possible. The documents received on the orders of the STC clearly show that Russia imports devices, parts, and equipment from the United States, Germany, Spain, Austria, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, etc.

The supply chain is Russia’s favorite “parallel import,” a primitive but reliable way to circumvent sanctions. The chain looks like this:

  • The manufacturing plant operates in the USA, Asia, and Europe.
  • The distributor is typically located in the same country as the plant.
  • An intermediary company, buying and rexporting goods, is a legal entity (mostly companies from China, but Turkey, the UAE, Serbia, etc. can also be seen in the documents).
  • A Russian supplier company;
  • Russian military-industrial complex (in this case, the company Spetsialnyi Tekhnologicheskiy Tsentr).

The analysis of the documents received by the STC allowed researchers to track a number of Russian private legal entities that continued to import various equipment during 2022–2023, the final recipient of which was the STC.

In particular, these are:

  • RADIOLINE LLC (LLC Radioline, OGRN 1117746143228, TIN 7718837905, KPP 772301001)
  • PROTECH LLC (LLC “Protech”, OGRN 1077761186381, TIN 7701748975, CPP 772801001)
  • PT Elektronik LLC (PT Elektronik LLC, OGRN 1167847490524, TIN 7802606871, KPP 780201001);
  • and dozens of other companies.

Commercial offer from PT Electronics LLC, dated March 2023, containing equipment manufactured by Rohde & Schwarz GmbH. The company specializes in the production of radio electronics, is headquartered in Munich, Germany, and has divisions in the United States (Federal District of Columbia, Howard County, Maryland) and Singapore.

It is likely that without this equipment (spectrum analyzers), it is impossible to assemble the advanced Russian Leer-3 radar. Therefore, the Russians are constantly purchasing these spare parts. However, the smuggler intermediary offers to wait up to 16 weeks for these goods, as evidenced by the published correspondence.

Chinese components exports to Russia

Of course, many businesses directly order a significant amount of electronics, equipment, and components from China (CEYEAR).

The documentation clearly shows that the Russians purchased CMOS sensors manufactured by the Chinese company GPIXEL.

As stated on the company’s website, “GMAX is a family of Gpixel sensors designed to take full advantage of high-speed industrial camera interfaces while providing the performance and features required for photo-based measurement applications.” That is, these sensors are a great help in aerial photography from the Eagles.

It was also found out that Radioline is a long-term partner of the JCC and supplies millions of dollars worth of electronic components, measuring equipment, and laboratory equipment from various manufacturers, such as American Keysight, the already-mentioned German Rhode & Schwarz, Chinese Ceyear, etc.

Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022 and until recently, Radioline has carried out more than 50 separate operations for customs clearance of goods from different countries and suppliers. As well as another JTS partner, Protekh LLC, which has carried out more than 90 separate operations for customs clearance of imports of goods from different countries and suppliers.

List of suppliers [XLSX].

These documents clearly show that Western components take a long way to bypass sanctions and land in Russia, but eventually they do reach their destination. Sooner or later, Russia will use these assembled weapons in the aggressive, illegal, and unjust war it has unleashed.

Is it possible to stop these sanctions evasion schemes and prevent Russia from maintaining its war against Ukraine? Posdibly. It will require disclosing and cutting off the Kremlin’s supply chains and imposing secondary sanctions against the entities and countries that helped Moscow circumvent restrictions. Increasing sanctions, pressure, and control over the supply of dual-use goods must be implemented too.

Scroll to Top