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Spiegel: German company under investigation for selling drone components to Russia

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk August 29, 2023 4:09 PM 2 min read
An Orlan drone displayed during an open-air exhibition of destroyed Russian military equipment and tactical gear on Mykhailivska Square on June 15, 2023, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo by Zinchenko/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
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Investigators in Germany suspect a company of selling electronic components used to produce Russian Orlan-10 drones, German media outlet Der Spiegel reported on Aug. 29.

The Federal Prosecutor's Office is investigating a man, identified as Waldemar W., for 26 cases of violating the Foreign Trade and Payments Act, according to Der Spiegel.

The Orlan-10 is a reconnaissance drone used by the Russian military. The total value of the components the man sold are estimated to be around €750,000 ($811,000).

The suspect is in custody following an arrest warrant from the Federal Court of Justice.

Der Spiegel noted that the man started the trade in 2020, and continued to sell the components to Russia until March 2023. He did not appear to have paused his business amidst the launch of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Der Speigel referenced a Dec. 2022 report from the U.K-based think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), which pointed to a German company as a likely supplier of electronics for Russian reconnaissance drones.

RUSI described the Orlan-10 as "one of the most critical systems contributing to the lethality" of Russian forces in Ukraine.  

The drone is "relatively-inexpensive, mass-produced," and highly effective, RUSI said.

The investigators believe the businessman, who has both German and Russian citizenship, sent the components to Russia via third-party countries such as Lithuania and the United Arab Emirates.  

The RUSI report highlighted how components for the Orlan-10 are "being procured and trans-shipped using intermediaries in the US, Europe, Hong Kong and China," despite western sanctions.

Ukraine has repeatedly raised the issue of Russia using third-party countries to bypass sanctions with its allies, after finding western-made components in Russian drones.

On July 20, U.S. sanctioned several Kyrgyz companies that were suspected of helping Russia bypass sanctions.

The European Council also adopted new sanctions against Iran on July 20, which prohibit the export of components to Iran which are commonly used in the construction of Shahed attack drones used by Russia.

Expert group: 67% of foreign components in Russian drones originate in China
The Yermak-McFaul Expert Group on Russian Sanctions examined 174 foreign components from three drone models used by Russia to attack Ukraine — Shahed-136/131, Lancet, and Orlan-10 — discovering that more than 60% had come from China.

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