Chinese drone maker suspends operations in Russia and Ukraine

Top-selling Chinese drone maker DJI is suspending all operations in Russia and Ukraine after a Ukrainian deputy prime minister posted a scathing letter on Twitter.

According to a letter from Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov to DJI CEO Frank Wang, Russian invasion troops used DJI drones to “navigate” missile attacks in Ukraine. The letter, posted on Twitter, demands that DJI cease its activities in Russia “until the war in Ukraine is completely stopped and a just order is restored”.

“The Russian military is using an extended version of DJI AeroScope…to direct its missile to kill civilians,” Fedorov’s letter said.

AeroScope is a DJI product that can be used to locate drones and drone operators, including Ukrainian drone pilots who can use drones to defend against Russian invaders. DJI’s website describes AeroScope as a “comprehensive drone detection platform that quickly identifies UAV communication links, gathering information such as flight status, trajectories, and other real-time information.”

The letter asked DJI to provide Ukraine with information on the number of working DJI products in the country and details on their identification and location. He asked DJI to “activate” AeroScope for Ukrainian users and to “block all DJI products…purchased and activated” in Russia, Syria and Lebanon. “Now more than ever, people’s lives depend on your choice,” the letter reads.

An updated statement from DJI on its website on April 21 indicates that the company has never manufactured any military-use products, nor does it market any military-use products. “Our products are designed to improve people’s lives and benefit the world, and we absolutely deplore any use of our products to cause harm,” DJI’s statement read.

DJI said its “distributors, resellers and other business partners” have agreed “not to sell DJI products to customers who clearly intend to use them for military purposes or assist in modifying our products for military purposes.” The company said it would “terminate our business relationship” with companies that “cannot meet this commitment.”

In the two months since Russia invaded Ukraine, the Chinese government has not condemned Moscow, unlike 141 other countries, including the United States and its NATO partners. DJI, a private company based in Shenzhen, China, is not officially a public company, but DJI’s investors include entities owned or administered by the Chinese government, according to reports.

Data Security Questions

DJI is the best-selling drone brand in the United States. In fact, the company’s products were recently banned by some US government officials who suspect the technology poses a national security threat. DJI denied any wrongdoing, saying it “does not access flight logs, photos or videos generated during drone flights unless customers choose to actively share this data.”

Virginia C. Taylor