On July 27, 2023, the Russian occupation government in Crimea issued the order about creation of the working group on development and production of drones. The order was adopted less than a week after the government of the Russian Federation issued its order about «Strategy of Development of Drones until 2030» (on July 21, 2023). Main tasks of the Strategy are the following: supporting demand for drones; development and production of drones; construction of airfields and «ports» for drones; the launch of R & D centers; training of personnel etc.
The Russian Cabinet of Ministries had to fulfill the order of Putin and launch the new national project on the development of drones by September 1, 2023. It failed and informed that the project would start at the beginning of the next year. First Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Andrei Belousov announced that the budget of the national project would reach 300 billion Rubles in 2024-2026 (3,1 billion USD, according to the current exchange rate of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation). 48 billion Rubles are planned to be allocated in 2024, 117 billion – in 2025 and 148 billion – in 2026.
Expected launch of this rich project made Russian public officials and entrepreneurs hurry with staffing commissions with «their» people. We will look at the commission in Crimea as its members include Ukrainian citizens who help Russian aggressors.
The working group on development of drones in Crimea is headed by Igor Nikolaevich Mikhailichenko, deputy head of the Crimean occupation government. He graduated from Ryazan school of airborne troops and came to Crimea in 2014. He participated in the Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula and was awarded Order «For Services to Motherland» of the IVth degree.
In 2015, Mikhailichenko retired. He was appointed as an assistant of Aksyonov, responsible for cooperation with the Russian Armed Forces and law enforcement bodies. In 2016, he has been deputy head of the conscription commission of Crimea and supervised illegal autumn recruitment of 1,5 thousand Ukrainian citizens residing on occupied territory of Ukraine into the Armed Forces of Russia. Later Mikhailichenko became deputy head of the occupation government of Crimea. He replaced Mikhail Sheremet, ex-head of illegal military unit «self-defense of Crimea». «Head of Crimea» Aksyonov promoted Sheremet to the State Duma of the Russian Federation. «Vice Prime Minister» of Crimea Mikhailichenko is the supervisor of emergency services, conscription work, cooperation with the Russian military and law enforcement bodies etc.
Igor Mikhailichenko has been the subject of sanctions of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine since 2018. Surprisingly, no international sanctions were imposed on him.
Ukrainian citizen Elektchyan Olena Feliksivna has been appointed as the deputy of Mikhailichenko in the working group on the development of drones. She is the first deputy «minister» of industry in the Russian occupation government of Crimea. In May 2023, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol served her with suspicion on collaborator activity. Ukrainian citizen Natalia Valeriivna Kascheeva is the secretary of the working group. She works as the public official in the Crimean «ministry of industry». Before the Russian occupation of Crimea, she worked as an advertisement agent in TV and Radio Broadcasting Company «Chornomorska».
The Crimean working group includes 21 people (see full list here). Their majority are deputies of various Crimean «ministries», «departments» and governmental «offices». There are two persons with PhD in engineering sciences, granted by illegally created universities in Crimea, the former Crimean «minister»and representative of Crimean company «Roboavia» manufacturing drones. The company has been recently investigated by the CJI.
«Roboavia» under the protection of the Russian Ministry of Defense
Let us look into the history of «Roboavia» and find out why Russian media so actively covers its activity and why its representative was included into the Crimean working group on drones.
Limited liability company «Roboavia» has been created in 2015 in Simferopol on the basis of avia modeling club. This club has functioned in Zavodske airport for years.
Co-founders of the company are Crimean resident Maksym Krasuk, chief designer of the company, and Russian entrepreneur Viktor Velesik. They also set up two other companies: «Bespilotnye sistemy «Roboavia» in Russia and «SP Roboavia» in Kazakhstan. The company launched the factory, manufacturing double use drones «Sapsan-3000», in Kazakh city of Shymkent where Velesik was born. Engines for «Sapsan-3000» have been supplied to Kazakhstan from Germany and the USA. As it has been reported, Kazakhstan has been one of main channels of so-called «parallel import» to Russia. That is to say, owners of «Roboavia» succeeded in avoiding international sanctions banning supply of materials for drones to Russia.
In 2022, owners of Simferopol company changed. 90% of the statutory capital have been transferred to 72 years old Ludmila Gurova from Russian city of Rostov. Her son Roman Gurov is the General Director of «Roboavia». In July 2023, he announced construction of new drone factory in Rostov region. The factory is expected to manufacture 1 100 drones per year. Some of them will be supplied to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
Announced amount of investments is half a billion Russian Rubles. Their source is unknown. It is also unclear how Gurov family succeeded to conduct risky fuel trade on temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Therefore, we concluded that Ludmila and Roman Gurov are fake owners of the drone business. Real owners and beneficiaries from Russian enforcement bodies or the Russian Army use Gurov names, in order to hide their identities. These conclusions of the CJI’s investigation have been soon confirmed by a number of facts and events.
On August 14, 2023, Russia opened its IX international military forum «Army-2023». Attack drone «Surpris-PRO», produced by «Roboavia», has been presented to Sergey Shoigu, the Russian Minister of Defense. The drone has been developed for the Ground Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. As it is reported, quadrocopter is able to carry two mines of the 82th caliber. It is invisible for electronic warfare devices. Main Russian federal mass media covered the drone whereas weekly media «Zvezda» of the Russian Ministry of Defense started its overview of the forum with drone «Surpris».
Close attention to unknown drone producer from Crimea can be explained by the fact that Military innovation technopolis «Era» is indicated as the co-producer of the drone. It has been founded by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation in the Russian resort city of Anapa. Its critics call it «Skolkovo of Shoigu», referring to federal innovation technopolis «Skolkovo», Russian «Silicon Valley», known for corruption scandals. «Skolkovo of Shoigu» has not produced any innovative weapons so far.
Simferopol resident Valentyn Kyselyov, who managed marketing department in Kazakh «SP Roboavia» and is now managing office of «Roboavia» in Moscow, reported that «Roboavia» became the resident of «Era» technopolis one year ago, at the time when pensioner Gurova acquired de jure control over the company.
Exposition of «Era» at forum «Armia-2023» also demonstrated new tactical tablet and another drone of «Roboavia» – reconnaissance «flying wing» drone «Sarych-2» (its tactical and technical profile can be viewed here). Our previous investigation found out that its design copied drone «Sapsan-3000», produced by «Roboavia» at its factory in Kazakhstan. Their tactical and technical profiles are almost identical. The only major difference is maximum height. «Sarych» can fly 2 000 meters higher than «Sapsan».
Is it possible that «Roboavia» upgraded its old drone and presented as the new one, produced in cooperation with technopolis «Era»? It is. The Russian Armed Forces are plagued by deep rooted corruption.
The question about manufacturer of the electric engine of drone is open. As our investigation revealed, Kazakh branch of «Roboavia» has imported engines for «Sapsan-3000» from the USA and EU countries. In 2021, General Director of company Nikolai Pazhytnev publicly reported about the origin of engines.
It is unknown what engines are installed on «Sarych-2». We hope to receive this information soon from the Armed Forces of Ukraine. As Kyselyov and Russian «Head of Crimea» Aksyonov stated, the drone has been already tested by units of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation and would be supplied to the Russian Armed Forces in the nearest future.
«Roboavia» works, it’s a good production. We will give it more money. It will also perform some designing and research works», as promises Aksyonov.
As he said, reconnaissance drones have been already supplied to military units supported by «the government» of Crimea, upon «special order». It seems that he talked about so-called «Aksyonov’s voluntary units», i.e. Cossack assault battalion «Tavrida» and battalion «Livadia» (BARS-30). However, as Dossier project uncovered, the most known unit of «Livadia», «PVK «Convoy», headed by Prigozhyn’s friend Konstantin Pikalov, has been financed by Russian «VTB» bank and Arkadii Rottenberg’s company, not by Aksyonov.
The Crimean working group for development of drones includes Volodymyr Yuriyovych Schokin, the head of economic department of LLC «Roboavia». Yevpatoria resident Schokin has been the owner of 1% share of company’s statutory capital since October 2022. It seems that his personal capital will increase after his inclusion into the governmental group for development of drones.
Members of criminal «Seilem» group aim at billions
There are several known figures among members of the Crimean working group for the development of drones. Ukrainian citizen Andrii Gennadiyovych Vasuta is among them. He has worked in the government of Crimea at the end of 1990s. After Russian occupation of Crimea, he has headed the «ministry of industry».
The official list of members of Crimean working group titles him as the Head of Council of Directors of Feodosia based Joint Stock Company «Designing and technological bureau «Sudokomposit». He graduated as an engineer-mechanic from Kharkiv avia school (specialization – «engines and flying machines»). He is also co-founder of company «Vysokotochnye aviatsionnye sistemy» (VASIS).
Let us recall the beginning of his career in 1990s. He has been known as «business» representative of organized criminal gang «Seilem» in 1990s. He has been business partner of Sergii Voronkov (criminal nickname «Voronka»), who became the leader of the gang after his predecessor Yevgenii Khavych («Zhyd») was killed.
«Seilem» and its main rival – organized criminal gang «Bashmaki» – conducted fierce gang wars at the beginning of 1990s. They destroyed another criminal gang called «Greeks» of Kostia Savopulo. Current «Head of Crimea» Aksyonov (criminal nickname «Goblin») has been associated with «Greeks» gang. Since middle of 1990s, representatives of «Seilem» and «Bashmaki» have entered Crimean politics and governmental authorities. Voronkov has been elected to Simferopol City Council and appointed Vice-President of Crimean Union of Entrepreneurs. He exercised an influence on political Party of Economic Development of Crimea (PEDC).
Andrii Vasuta looked like classical «float», i.e. person with «clean» non-criminal biography, and has been used by criminal gangs to launder their money. In 1997, he has been appointed as the Deputy Minister of Economy of Crimea.
In a year, his boss «Voronok» has been imprisoned for illegal storage of weapons and burglary, as an outcome of investigation launched by Gennadii Moskal, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Crimea.
After his release in 2005, he tried to make friends with new Crimean authorities but never returned to public politics. It was reported that he has lived in Moscow for long time. However, the influence of «Voronok» and «Seilem» gang on Crimean politics and business has been preserved over coming years, before and after the annexation of Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation.
In 2015, Andrii Vasuta has been appointed as the General Director of company «Krymskie morskie porty» [Crimean sea ports]. The company included assets of Ukrainian sea ports in Crimea which has been sanctioned by EU and the USA after their expropriation by Russia. In 2016, Vasuta has been promoted by Aksyonov to the position of the «minister of industrial policy» in the occupation government of Crimea. The USA and Canada imposed sanctions on Vasuta in 2016.
He transferred to his wife Iryna his shares in the company jointly owned by him and Sergii Voronkov and Volodymyr Maslov, son of Anatolii Maslov, Deputy Prime Minister of Crimean government in 1991-94. The company has been registered in the Russian jurisdiction.
However, nothing has been changed in the Ukrainian State Register of Legal Entities. For example, Voronkov, Maslov and Vasuta have preserved their shares in LLC «Krymske karjeroupravlinnia», extracting sand, clay and gravel. Company «Sever», extracting limestone in Saki raion, has been owned by these three persons and Yakiv Vaisman. LLC «Karjer Marmurovy» has been owned by Vasuta, Maslov and three persons from neighboring villages Dobre and Zarichne with microscopic shares. This sphere is just one business stream of «Seilem» members but it is lucrative. Russian huge construction projects in Crimea required sand and gravel. They made their suppliers very rich and seriously damaged the environment…
In 2020, Vasuta retired from the position of the «minister». He explained it by deteriorating health conditions.
Though he left the governmental position, he has kept his positions in the Crimean business. As it has been mentioned above, Andrii Vasuta has headed the supervisory board of Joint Stock Company «Sudokomposit». This company is the former Ukrainian state enterprise, part of the defense industrial holding «Ukroboronprom». It has been stolen from Ukraine by Russian occupants. Before Vasuta’s retirement, this Russian «state unitary enterprise» has been privatized. Its private owners were not disclosed.
In 2020, Volodymyr Maslov, business partner of Vasuta, became the owner of another Ukrainian state enterprise stolen by Russia – Feodosia optical factory. Russian occupation authorities sold it to Maslov for 10 million Rubles.
New horizon of «Seilem» business is drones. In May 2023, Volodymyr Maslov, Andrii Vasuta and two related legal entities registered company «Vysokotochnye aviatsionnye sistemy» [His precision avia systems], VASIS.
The statutory capital of VASIS is only 10 thousand Rubles. Business profile is «production of aircrafts». Therefore, the membership of Andrii Vasuta in the Crimean working group on drones is not accidental. «Seilem» members are planning to participate in the distribution of billions for the production of drones in their own interests.