Who prepares Crimean drones for the Russian war against Ukraine

Фото: robo-avia.ru

It is easy to avoid Western sanctions if you use countries as intermediaries. The team of the Center for Journalist Investigations uncovered a network of companies in the third countries behind Simferopol manufacturer of drones founded by Ukrainian citizens-collaborators. It is about Crimean limited liability company «Roboavia». It develops and manufactures «flying wing» drones and has production facilities in occupied Ukrainian Crimea, Kazakhstan and Russia. 

«Roboavia» has not yet achieved its goal – to receive orders from the Ministry of Defense of Russia. But the company is very close to success. Its founders have established channels to receive Western components by avoiding Western sanctions. Its current beneficiaries invest half a billion Rubles into the new factory in Russian Rostov region. 

Company «Roboavia» has been registered in 2015 under Russian jurisdiction in Simferopol (Danylov street, 62a). It is the territory of the former air field «Zavodske». Aero modeling sports club has been active there for many years since Soviet times. First founders of LLC «Roboavia» have been former director and member of this club – Vitalii Maksymovych Sauliak and Maksym Oleksandrovych Krasuk, respectively. 

Both greeted the Russian occupation of Crimea. Maksym attended pro-Russian meeting and took photos with Russian flag on the day of Crimean pseudo-referendum. Vitalii Sauliak conducted «air battles» at the anniversary of pseudo-referendum. As the leading expert on aero modeling sports, he has closely cooperated with the Russian military. 

For example, Sauliak attended the anniversary events of the naval air forces of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation at the air field in Novofedorivka and told Russian propagandists

Vitalii Sauliak «Крым 24»

For example, Sauliak attended the anniversary events of the naval air forces of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation at the air field in Novofedorivka and told Russian propagandists that headquarters of the 43rd air regiment of the Black Sea Fleet rendered military air field for training flights of members of aero modeling club. 

Vitalii Sauliak has been the trainer of Maksym Krasuk who participated in Russian tournaments of aero modeling sports as the member of the Crimea team. 

Maksym Krasuk (in the center) Photo: facebook.com/mkrasuk

However, main developments of «Roboavia» occurred in Kazakhstan at that time. Three months after registration of the company in Simferopol in 2015, LLC «SP Roboavia» has been registered in Shymkent, the city in Kazakhstan. Kazakh company has been founded by Russian citizen Viktor Andreevich Velesik, born in Shymkent, and Maksym Krasuk from Simferopol. He was presented as the main designer of the company.  

Shymkent has been chosen as the place of the main office and factory of «SP Roboavia» for three reasons. First, co-founder Velesik was born there and had business contacts in his native town. Second, military air field is located in Shymkent. Under Soviet Union, air factories worked in the city, with a number of skillful engineers. Later, the city hosted the air base of Air Forces of Kazakhstan. 

Third, Shymkent and Kazakhstan were chosen because it was easier to receive necessary components from Western countries. As it is reported, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are among main channels of the so-called «parallel import» to Russia, i.e. when Western technologies and goods banned by USA and EU to be imported to Russia are supplied through intermediary countries. 

Viktor Velesik and Maksym Krasuk near drones produced by «SP Roboavia» at the exhibition of weapons «KADEX 2016». Photo: facebook.com/mkrasuk

Drones «Samruk-3M» and «Samruk-5M» were the first drones produced by «Roboavia» in Kazakhstan. They used internal combustion engines. These drones were the only drones «made in Kazakhstan» at the international exhibition of weapons «KADEX 2016» in June 2016. 

In 2017, co-founders of Simferopol and Shymkent «Roboavia» Viktor Velesik and Maksym Krasuk registered in the Russian city of Voronezh another manufacturer of drones called limited liability company «Bespilotnye sistemy «Roboavia» [Drones of Roboavia]. All companies use the same logo – the owl and identical font in the name of the company. 

In 2018, «Roboavia» launched the production of drones in Shymkent. However, there was no demand for «Samruk». The company developed another drone called «Sapsan-3000». It had electric engine manufactured in Western countries. 

Screenshot of Maksym Krasuk’s post in Instagram 

General director of «Roboavia» Nikolai Pazhytnev told Kazakh business media that only 35% of components for «Sapsan-3000» were manufactured in Kazakhstan. 

«We bought in Kazakhstan everything we could – electronics, cables, glue. But we are not able to buy engine here. We buy it from the USA or Germany», as told Pazhytnev. 

Thus, «SP Roboavia» is able to buy in Kazakhstan what «Roboavia» is not able to buy in Simferopl or «Bespilotnye sistemy «Roboavia» is not able to buy in Russian Voronezh – electric engines and micro electronics for its drones from EU countries and the USA. They managed to secure necessary supplies through Kazakhstan to Russia or occupied Crimea without falling under the regime of international sanctions. 

Managers of «SP Roboavia» wanted to supply their drones to the defense sector of Kazakhstan. That is why they denied any connection with Russia; they insisted that «SP Roboavia» was the local company, «not the daughter» of the Russian company. As Pazythnev told, the Ministry of Defense of Kazakhstan conducted three tests of company’s drones under different conditions. However, the Ministry did not order drones for Kazakh Armed Forces. The company focused on services for aerial surveys and monitoring of gas and oil pipelines and used its two complexes of drones. 

In 2022, information agency «DKNews» reported that only two Kazakh companies were involved into servicing drones for the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan: state owned company «Kazakhstan Air Industry» and private company «Roboavia». 

Drones «Sapsan-3000» and «FIXAR 007». Photo: facebook.com/TOORoboAvia

What happened with the network of «Roboavia» in three countries when Russia launched full scale invasion into Ukraine? 

LCC «SP Roboavia» reported in 2021 that it concluded an agreement with company FIXAR Global and started manufacturing in Kazakhstan drones FIXAR 007 with vertical takeoff and landing. Since then, website and pages of the company in social media have been frozen. However, job search websites publish numerous announcements of vacancies in «Roboavia» in Shymkent: pilots \ operators of drones, drivers of drone teams, engineers and designers, lawyers and procurement specialists etc. It means that the company keeps working or resuming its production activity. 

LLC «Bespilotnye sistemy «Roboavia» in Voronezh has not submitted financial reports to relevant authorities in 2022. It seems the activity of enterprise has been stalled. We did not find any information about its results since the beginning of the Russian invasion. Local media mentioned the company when they wrote about its financial director Konstantin Melkumov, former policemen. He ran for regional Duma [regional representative body] from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. His political advertisement indicated that he has been «Russian Elon Musk» but did not go into details. 

In September 2021, co-founders Velesik and Krasuk left Voronezh «Roboavia». Unknown Kolotushkin with taxpayer’s code issued in Russian Kaliningrad region became its new owner. On June 30, 2023, the company has been liquidated by Russian authorities because registration data has been false. 

Renewed website of LLC «Roboavia» based in Simferopol reported that this company has manufactured and sold drone «Sarych». Its design is almost identical to drone «Sapsan-3000» produced in Kazakhstan. Its tactical and technical characteristics are also almost the same. The only significant difference is the maximum height ceiling. The ceiling of «Sarych» is 2 000 meters higher than that of «Sapsan-3000». 

In 2023, the activity of Simferopol «Roboavia» has been intensively covered by Russian media.

Ihor Sorokin and Roman Gurov after signing an agreement in Ekaterinburg, July 2023. Screenshot of video by Russian TV channel «Первый Ростовский» 

In July 2023, deputy governor of Russian Rostov region Ihor Sorokin and General Director of «Roboavia» Roman Gurov signed an agreement about construction of large drone factory in the region at the exhibition «Innoprom» in Ekaterinburg.  Amount of investments has been around half a billion Russian Rubles. Expected production output – 1 100 drones per year. It should be noted that currently «Roboavia» manufactures 16 drones per month in Simferopol. 

A number of Russian and Ukrainian mass media posted the news of half a billion investment of «Crimean company» into drone factory in Rostov region. Media noise around the company uncovered changes in its ownership and management. 

Co-owner Viktor Velesik has been the first to leave Crimean company in the summer of 2022. It is not surprising. Velesik has been the only co-founder of «Roboavia» who publicly condemned Russian invasion into Ukraine. He posted the link to petition for impeachment of Putin on his Facebook account. He cited Gilbert’s «Nuremberg Diary», reposted the video speech of Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usik and other renowned figures condemning the Russian aggression. 

Since October 2022, the ownership structure of Crimean «Roboavia» has been the following: 90% of statutory capital are owned by Ludmila Vasiljevna Gurova, mother of Roman Gurov, the General Director of the company after November 2022. 3% are owned by Maksym Krasuk, the chief designer. Simferopol resident Oleksandr Vykhritsky and Russian citizen Yuri Lankovsky, former trader of construction materials in Russian Novosibirisk, own 2,5% each. Yevpatoria resident Volodymyr Schokin and Dmytro Fedchuk own 1% each. 

When main owners of «Roboavia» changed, its statutory capital increased to 13,3 million Rubles! More to that, Gurov’s family promised to invest half a billion into the new factory in the industrial park of Rostov region. 

«The field is ready for the new factory in Aksai raion of Rostov region. We also have ready project documents for the factory. We will produce new products after the New Year», as told Roman Gurov. 

Representatives of the company state their aim is to get orders from the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. Simferopol resident Valentyn Kyselyov headed the marketing departments of Kazakh «SP Roboavia». As representative of Crimean «Roboavia», he told Rostov media that the company has an office and training center for operators of drones in Rostov. The company is going to launch production as soon as possible as «its products were needed yesterday» and «there is a great demand from the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation». 

Who are these people? Where did they get money? What drones will new factory in Rostov region produce? 

Roman Yevhenjevich Gurov was born in the Russian city of Rostov-na-Donu. When he studied at the university, he got part time job in IT company founded by his older brother Denis. He registered as an individual entrepreneur in 2010. The profile of his business has been related to the transportation. According to the Russian State Register, he received his own company three years ago when he bought LLC «Nika» involved into wholesale trade of fuel, metal, grain and transportation.

Since November 2022, his mother Ludmila Gurova, 72 years old, has been the director of the company. Though she is old, she conducts risky business in the front zone, in Ukrainian Donbas, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation. 

Since 2023, Ludmila Gurova and Rostov based «Nika» have controlled the company «Nika trade invest» in occupied Ukrainian Donetsk. There is also company «Nika Group» in occupied Ukrainian Luhansk in which Gurov’s LLC «Nika» owns 99% of the statutory capital. If unknown Gurov’s family entered the market of fuel on the territory of occupied Donbas, it means they have powerful support from the Russian military or intelligence services. 

Roman Gurov, General Director of LLC «Roboavia», July 2023. Screenshot of video by Russian TV channel «Первый Ростовский»

In 2021, the profit of LLC «Nika» has been 8,9 million Rubles, in 2022 the profit reached 22,5 million Rubles. However, it has not been sufficient for the acquisition of three companies in Simferopol, Donetsk and Luhansk within one year, for the start of business on temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and for the investment of half a billion into drone factory! We succeeded in getting access to four contracts on financial lease of «Roboavia» – it turned out that the company had to lease, not to buy, autos «GAS» and Ford Transit. 

The personality of Roman Gurov is remarkable. He went public only in April 2023. He set up his own website (he calls himself «simple Rostov engineer Gurov» at the website) and accounts in Russian social media VKontakte and Odnoklasniki. It should be emphasized that he started his media activity on the eve of the large project with half a billion investments. 

Therefore, the source of money for this mega-project remains unclear and it seems that Roman and Ludmila Gurov are fake owners. Real owners are some Russian influential people who do not want to make public their involvement into the business on occupied territories of Ukraine.

We will try to determine all physical persons and legal entities behind this Russian business on the territory of Ukraine. As we demonstrated, this business has been made possible by launching company in Kazakhstan, getting supply of electric engines for drones from the USA and Germany, spare parts from China and Southern Korea and by avoiding international sanctions. 

This story is also an alarm bell for company «Fixar», headquartered in EU countries and having contracts with «SP Roboavia» on production of Fixar 007.