Russian drones that kill Ukrainians still use Swiss and US-made components

As the EU announced a 12th package of economic sanctions against Russia, Moscow’s ability to circumvent restrictions still requires improving the effectiveness and control of anti-Russia sanctions to restrict access to equipment used by Putin’s forces. Russian troops continue the invasion of neighboring Ukraine, while the fighting results in a stalemate as the Russia-Ukraine war enters its second winter.

 A recent Swiss assessment reveals that Russian drone manufacturers have successfully evaded economic sanctions to acquire crucial technology used in Putin’s war machine. 

Swissinfo.ch has seen Ukrainian government papers indicating that Russian drones still incorporate Swiss components manufactured in 2023.

Swissinfo reported on November 15 that Russia’s manufacturers of various attack drone models continued to acquire essential parts from the West or Western-aligned nations, including Switzerland, the United States, and Taiwan.

“This isn’t a case of Moscow using old equipment from before the sanctions, either; many of the components were produced this year. So how is Putin bypassing sanctions and getting his grubby hands on them?” claimed Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a long-time Kremlin opponent now living in exile in London.

The Russian opposition leader claimed that intermediary shell businesses, or “fixers,” registered in Turkey and China were assisting the Kremlin in obtaining components, leaving “no paper trail to suggest any sanctions were violated.”.

Lancet drones launched by Russia against Ukraine with the use of Western components result in the deaths of the military and civilians. Ukraine is putting pressure on its partners to do more to deprive Russia of the components required to build this dangerous weapon. However, Moscow is determined to increase production and has shown proficiency in evading sanctions.

Among the beneficiaries of this secretive supply chain was Russia’s Lancet drone, an efficient loitering munition that Ukraine’s defenders have found difficult to stop. Ukrainian engineers discovered Swiss-made components inside the Lancet after examining the devices.

The Lancet is a small drone that can fly at great heights. It is small, agile, and difficult to shoot down. Its primary job is to detect and destroy targets. The first reconnaissance drone usually discovers the target. After that, the Lancer launches to destroy the target. Lancets are inexpensive, productive, and simple to use, with a stated price of $35,000.

Swissinfo.ch has discovered verified documents containing new evidence indicating that Lancet striking Ukraine had components manufactured this year by Western businesses, including Swiss ones.

According to new data, media sources previously showed that Swiss-made chips, including those used in the Lancet, Orlan, and Shahed drones, were built in 2023. Despite efforts by both firms and the Swiss government to halt all exports of these chips to Russia or third-country re-exporters,.

Swissinfo.ch discovered at least 19 foreign-made electrical components in Lancet drones during document analysis. STMicroelectronics and u-blox were the two Swiss corporations mentioned in the document.

VMK, a Russian corporation, is one of Russia’s top suppliers of various electronic parts. From January to March 2023, the company imported $53,500 of STMicroelectronics items into Russia. These products’ countries of origin include China, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Hong Kong served as the delivery location for the items.

The research found that leading US-based businesses such as Analog Devices, Texas Instruments, and Atmel utilized a similar middleman method to obtain drone parts. Meanwhile, Ukrainians detected components manufactured by Taiwanese manufacturer VBsemi inside Russian military-grade drones.

During the analysis of electronic components found in unmanned aerial vehicle Lancet samples, the Ukrainian National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption identified at least 19 foreign-produced electronic components. Additionally, the usage of Swiss-made u-blox satellite navigation modules has been documented,” revealed Oleksandr Novikov, head of the Ukrainian National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, in an interview with Swissinfo.ch.

In August, Ukraine delivered a 47-page paper to the G7 countries, claiming that drones with Western components had carried out more than 600 drone strikes on Ukrainian cities during the previous three months. Countries in the sanction coalition, such as Switzerland, the United States, the Netherlands, Poland, Canada, and Japan, were among the part manufacturers.

The Kyiv School of Economics released research in August showing a 19% increase in the trade volume of foreign parts used in Russian drones from January to May 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.

“It is necessary to completely halt the identified components not only in Russia but also in high-risk jurisdictions.” Novikov emphasized the need to hold manufacturers accountable for continuing to supply goods to Russia and to impose sanctions on companies that assist in the circumvention of sanctions.

Everyday consumer goods such as e-scooters, e-bikes, automobiles, toys, and construction equipment contain chips used in Lancet drones. Buyers can easily resell these items on the secondary market. Before Putin’s war, exporting these chips, which are not classified as military equipment, had no restrictions. These chips enable the drone to navigate by incorporating them into it.

Zala Aero Group, based in Russia, has been producing Lancet drones since the mid-2000s. The Kalashnikov Concern, which controls practically all small-arms manufacture in Russia, holds the rest of the company’s shares, while Alexander Zakharov is the primary shareholder.

Zakharov has a $2 million London flat near Buckingham Palace with his wife and children. Ukrainian authorities believe he is “responsible for supporting actions that undermine or threaten Ukraine.”

Ukraine blames Western firms and governments for being too lenient and claims that they should do much more to halt the constant flow of sanctioned products to Russia.

SECO claims to have already taken several steps to prevent more Swiss components from entering Russia. It has notified businesses of dubious overseas recipients and third-country transit destinations. In addition, SECO has suspended deliveries to those countries. SECO stated that Switzerland is also enforcing stronger border restrictions and discussing possible technical measures to limit Russia’s technical capabilities for goods.

At the start of Russia’s all-out war, the European Union and the United States were swift to impose sanctions on Russian assets and individuals. Switzerland quickly followed it. Switzerland joined an 11th wave of sanctions announced by the European Union in August 2023 to prevent Russia from bypassing sanctions.

The international trade restrictions included a prohibition on the export of dual-use products and goods that contribute to Russia’s military-technical advancement. These prohibitions apply to 87 companies, including those that imported such goods from third countries and supplied them to Russia.

People are dying in Ukraine every day as a result of these drones, and cutting off Moscow’s access to their components will significantly lessen the number of deaths. Failing to stop the supply of drone parts to Russia contributes to Russian military advancement and threatens to spread its war further to Europe.

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