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Ukraine war: China limits drone exports as Russia compares Moscow strike to 9/11

China is to limit the export of long-range drones over fears they are being converted for military use in Ukraine.

Beijing says it will limit the export of some high-performance civilian devices due to the “increasing risk” that they are being used for “non-peaceful purposes”.

Both Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of targetting civilian buildings with drone strikes in recent days, including one on Moscow’s financial district, which a Kremlin spokesperson likened to 9/11.

Xi Jinping’s government has officially adopted a position of neutrality over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – despite its friendly ties with Moscow.

Chinese firm DJI Technology Co – one of the global industry’s top competitors – has also pulled out of Ukraine and Russia to prevent its drones from being used in combat.

But Beijing has been stung in recent months by reports that both sides might be using Chinese-made drones for reconnaissance and possibly attacks in Ukraine.

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Rescuers work at a site of a building damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine August 1, 2023. REUTERS/Vitalii Hnidyi

A report by the New York Times in March, citing official Russian customs data, claimed that China had sold more than $12m (£9.3m) worth of drones and drone parts to Russia since the start of the war.

Officials in Washington have also previously raised fears that US components may be being used in Chinese-made drones sold to Russia – something which, if proven, would be a breach of American export laws.

‘Risk of military use constantly increasing’

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China announced its new drone export limits on Tuesday in a statement from the country’s Ministry of Commerce, which also announced plans to restrict exports of some lasers, communication equipment and anti-drone systems.

“The risk of some high specification and high-performance civilian unmanned aerial vehicles being converted to military use is constantly increasing,” it said in a statement.

The ministry said the restrictions would apply to drones that can fly beyond the natural sight distance of operators or stay aloft for more than 30 minutes, as well as drones that can have attachments that can throw objects.

Moscow drone attack is clear attempt by Ukraine to build fear and anger in Russia

Sean Bell

Sean Bell

Military analyst

What’s fascinating about this [the drone attacks] is Zelenskyy clearly wants to take the fight to Moscow.

One of the ways of winning the war is on the battlefield, but the other way of doing it is to remove Putin’s will to continue to fight like this.

The West won’t provide the weapons to take this war into Russia for obvious fears of escalation, but President Zelenskyy is clearly doing everything he can to raise the profile of the fact wealthy Muscovites are in a battle.

You imagine this was in central London – it might not cause significant damage, but it would cause a bit of panic.

Beijing has previously accused the US and Western media of spreading “false information” about Chinese drone exports, while DJI says it has “never designed and manufactured products and equipment for military use”.

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It comes after a US intelligence report claimed Beijing possibly provided equipment used in Ukraine that might have military applications.

The report cited Russian customs data that showed Chinese state-owned military contractors supplied drones, navigation equipment, fighter jet parts and other goods.

President Joe Biden’s administration has previously warned Beijing of unspecified consequences if it supports the Kremlin’s war effort.

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Were drone attacks on Moscow effective?

Russia likens drone attack to 9/11

China’s announcement came as both Moscow and Kyiv accused each other of using drones to strike civilian buildings.

One strike, on Moscow’s financial district, was compared to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York by Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

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A security officer stands guard near a damaged office building in the Moscow City following a reported Ukrainian drone attack in Moscow Russia, August 1, 2023. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
Image:
A security officer stands guard near a damaged office building in the Moscow City following a reported Ukrainian drone attack in Moscow

“Let’s take a look at another example: the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. It caused an enormous number of casualties but the methods were the same,” she told the Soloviev Live TV channel.

“The Moscow City district is a civilian site, which only hosts offices and a business centre, along with living quarters – a great number of residential apartments – as well as civilian administrative buildings that have nothing to do with the military.”

She added: “We are seeing the same picture now, as if it is repeating itself.”

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Earlier, Russian authorities said two of three drones had been shot down over the capital, with one eluding air defences and damaging a high-rise building – which was also hit in a similar attack on Sunday.

No casualties have been reported.

The 9/11 attacks, which saw the Islamist terror group al Qaeda hijack commercial airlines which they crashed into the World Trade Centre and attempted to crash into Washington D.C, claimed the lives of 2,996 people.

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Ukraine has also accused Russia of using drone strikes against its civilians, with Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones among the most feared.

On Monday night, two Russian drone attacks destroyed the floors of a college dormitory and struck the centre of Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials have said.

One person was injured in the strikes and emergency services have been dealing with the damage caused.

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