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Chinese drone-maker DJI suspends ops in Russia, Ukraine

In a first for a major Chinese tech company, drone-maker DJI Technologies announced on Tuesday that it will temporarily suspend business in both Russia and Ukraine.

“DJI is internally reassessing compliance requirements in various jurisdictions. Pending the current review, DJI will temporarily suspend all business activities in Russia and Ukraine. We are engaging with customers, partners and other stakeholders regarding the temporary suspension of business operations in the affected territories,” declared DJI in a canned statement.

Last week the company issued another statement clarifying that it did not market or sell its products for military use and “unequivocally opposed attempts to attach weapons to [its] products.” DJI also said it “refused to customize or enable modifications that would enable [its] products for military use.”

“We want to reiterate a position we have long held: our products are made to improve people’s lives and benefit the world, and we absolutely deplore any use of our products to cause harm. DJI has only ever made products for civilian use; they are not designed for military applications,” insisted DJI.

The company said it would terminate business relationships with any distributor, reseller or business partner that sells its products to customers intending to use them for military purposes.

Ukraine’s vice prime minister Mukailo Fedorov last month tweeted that Russian forces had used DJI products to navigate missiles and murder Ukrainians.

The above tweet was not referring to drones themselves, but rather DJI’s AeroScope drone detection platform. The product identifies UAV communication links to understand drone behavior and paths, and could potentially reveal the location of a drone pilot.

DJI did respond, to Mykhailo, eschewing any responsibility for misuse and stating that the AeroScope functionality in its drones cannot be disabled.

Ukrainian users reported in early March that AeroScope was no longer available within the nation’s borders, but the product continued running in Russia. The reports led to DJI denying allegations it aided Russia’s military last month.

While Ukraine does have military grade UAVs like the Bayraktar TB2, civilians have been known to use low-end drones to record Russian war crimes and to counterattack Russian forces.

Russia is also a known drone user in pursuit of its military goals, but relies on military-spec kit rather than DJI’s prosumer-grade products.

For example, Forbes reported Russia is partial to the Orlan-10 – assigning the military-grade $100,000-ish apiece drones designed for the Russian Armed Forces to artillery units.

DJI’s decision to exit the territory is notable because Beijing and Moscow recently announced a renewed and deeper partnership. Chinese government officials have been reluctant to make any allegations against or criticisms of Russia, nor take any sides in the war. The Washington Post reported in February that DJI and Beijing were very close, with DJI receiving funding from several Chinese state-backed investors.

DJI is on the US Entity List, meaning it has been cut off from access to US tech and American forces are banned from using its products. The US has also forbidden investment in the company, citing DJI’s involvement with human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

While the drone company is the first major Chinese company to suspend sales to Russia and Ukraine, fellow sanctioned Chinese product manufacturer Huawei furloughed its staff and stopped taking orders in Russia earlier this month. Huawei, however, continued to run job postings in the region – signalling either an HR error or an intention to resume Russian operations. ®