Russia has been dealt a massive blow with new Chinese export rules threatening to blow a gaping hole in its ability to build its own drones to use in the Ukraine war.
The brutal 19-month conflict has picked up pace over recent weeks following Kyiv’s highly-anticipated counteroffensive, with drone attacks becoming ever more prominent on vital infrastructure.
China is a leader in drone production and still has diplomatic relations with Russia, as shown by Xi Jinping’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this year.
But Putin’s war effort could be seriously hampered by Chinese export regulations on key components for uncrewed vehicles making it increasingly difficult for Moscow to make its own drones.
The Chinese regulations “seriously complicated drone deliveries to Russia and led to a shortage of a number of components, such as thermal imagers,” according to Kremlin-linked newspaper Kommersant, as per a report from Newsweek.
Xi’s government announced plans to introduce export controls on some drones and related parts, with the measures impacting the engines and lasers used in drones, as well as counter-drone systems.
At the time, it was also reported the new rules would also affect consumer drones intended for military use and those with a flight time of more than 30 minutes.
However the Chinese restrictions leave Putin and his generals with a massive problem and questions over how they will fill the void if production is extremely limited.
UK-based drone expert Steve Wright told Newsweek: “This is a very interesting example of how China has a tight grip on the technology that makes drones possible.”
He said drones require a “vast amount of electronics, and the Russians have tried, and failed, to develop an internal capability.”
The expert added: “In short, the Chinese have a stranglehold on much of the market,” for both Russia and Western countries.
Samuel Bendett, of the US-based Center for Naval Analyses, told Newsweek: “The real impact of this ban on the Russian market mostly boils down to the jump in prices for existing and available Chinese drones in and components already in Russia.
He suggested one solution over the longer term could be for Russia’s domestic drone industry to eventually step in and replace Chinese imports.
The expert said the Chinese regulations do not currently affect “small DJI-type drones” but that it could have an impact on larger, heavier agricultural drones that Russia has used in Ukraine.
He added: “The lack of certain components may have a great effect, but there are many alternate supply routes, legal and gray schemes used by Russians to procure what they need.”
Despite the ban, Russia’s largest drone makers have been able to stockpile “significant” reserves of drone components, according to Kommersant.
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