Progress War

Black Shaheds will be assembled in Togliatti instead of cars

In Togliatti, inthe local special economic zone (SEZ), another plant for the assembly of Iranian combat drones can be built. There is no official information about this and in words the plans are purely peaceful. The EFKO group of companies, the founder of enterprises producing drones in Togliatti, pretends that it has no relation to the plant. The fate of the Togliatti SEZ is increasingly reminiscent of the fate of a similar territory in Alabuga. In both projects, it all started with international business with global auto giants – GM andVolkswagen. But now they will assemble kamikaze drones there – deadly machines for the war in Ukraine.

“By the end of [2023] we are already launching buildings. We are starting mass production of propellers, engines, drivers and flight controllers, the first thousand FPV drones, the first hundreds of agricultural drones and drones for other applications,”stated in a comment to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, General Director of the Transport of the Future company Yuri Kozarenko.

However, two T-invariant sources familiar with the situation claim that instead of multidisciplinary UAV production there will be “essentially a screwdriver assembly of Iranian drones.”

The fact that the purpose of launching production is not only civilian is potentially indicated by the mention of “the first thousand FPV drones.” FPV drones – kamikaze drones – one of the most used types of UAVs in the war in Ukraine (here, for example, a detailed one analysis).

FPV drones. Photo: Telegram channel “Russian drone”

This is how Pavel Luzin, a visiting fellow at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, describes the situation, who recently published report “Russian Military Drones: Past, Present and Future of the UAV Industry.”

“FPV is simply a control interface. Almost any commercial drone with any control interface can be adapted for military use, and is being done. But the reality is that almost nothing will be produced in Tolyatti. There, in fact, there will be a final assembly from imported (Chinese) components. From what they claim to be their own production, only carbon fiber hulls and propeller blades can be made locally from imported raw materials. The claimed production of electric motors is a fiction,” Pavel Luzin told T-invariant.

When asked whether Iranian “Shaheds” or others will be assembled in Togliatti, Pavel Luzin gives the following explanation:“It doesn’t matter. In many regions, since 2022, we have seen this “administrative activism” when regional authorities open premises (sometimes directly in shopping centers) and sponsor some groups of people who assemble drones from Chinese components, or simply adapt ready-made Chinese drones for military use. At the same time, the regionals report to the top about what “patriotic patriots” they are. As for Iranian drones, it also doesn’t matter where they are eventually assembled. Everything there is limited by the production capabilities of Iran itself, which makes and supplies engines and other components for them,” Pavel Luzin explains to T-invariant.
FPV drones. Photo: Telegram channel “Russian drone”

Why are drones in Tolyatti not a civilian business? Regulatory restrictions

Another reason why it makes no sense to develop “civilian” business on UAVs in the Samara region — direct ban  from the Federal Air Transport Agency to use civilian drones in this region precisely because of the war with Ukraine.

This ban actually resets experimental legal regime (EPR) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), introduced for 3 years in Samara region. Although the Transport of the Future company demonstrates great joy that he is in the region introduced, “but in practice it doesn’t work well yet,” aviation experts say. They have repeatedly noted that the experimental legal regimes introduced have not lived up to expectations in most regions in the context of the ban on drone flights (due to the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine; Ukrainian drones regularly attack Russian cities).

That is, the civilian commercial UAV market is not only not profitable, but de jure and de facto a prohibited business in the Russian Federation.

And finally, the latest regulatory “stake” driven into the commercial insolvency of this business at the moment is a fresh innovation from The Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, which has prepared a unified register of developers and manufacturers of drones (being included in it opens access to subsidies and government orders). Thus, only those companies that receive at least 40% of revenue from the sale of drones will be able to enter the register. How writes Kommersant, this excludes large companies with diversified businesses (for example, EFKO).

“In Russia, any entrepreneurial activity is extremely regulated. We need to look not at individual sectors, but at the entire system as a whole. Because of this long-metastasizing regulation, Russia will not have any development in any area as long as its current political economic system exists. You just need to understand that in conditions when businesses are being squeezed in terms of investment and are faced with rising costs in other aspects of their activities, and private individuals are beginning to be limited or even prohibited from using drones for their needs, the military and intelligence services remain the only “clients” of such drones. And this, by the way, serves as a brake on the development of this market,” says Pavel Luzin.

Photo: Special economic zone

“Transport of the future” will try to fly abroad

The only potentially possible “civilian” profitability option for Transport of the Future LLC is the export of drones from the Russian Federation to countries where there are no bans on the commercial operation of UAS, as in fact there are now in RF.

And in November 2023, Transport of the Future LLC took the first such step – it signed a memorandum of intent with the Indian Sasaa Electronics Private Limited to create a joint venture (JV) in India. It is stated that in a few years it will produce UAVs for cargo delivery and agricultural monitoring in the Indian market, expressed Kommersant representative of Transport of the Future LLC.

“This is a very logical step. Regarding the plant in Togliatti, the question arises about the risks of non-return on investments,” one of the aviation experts interviewed by T-invariant is sure.

“[Group of companies] “EFKO”, its founders and managers are pragmatic people, and they would hardly voluntarily invest in a obviously unprofitable business, unless it was imposed on them from above,” says another T-invariant interlocutor associated with the Tolyatti SEZ.

Drone operator. Photo: “Transport of the future”

“Everything for the Northern Military District, but not Alabuga”

“The production of [drones] in the Zhiguli Valley is more of a PR for [Governor of the Samara Region Dmitry] Azarov, his desire to curry favor, to show his superiors that he is no less a patriot than [the head of Tatarstan Rustam] Minnikhanov will do everything for the North Military District. But from the point of view of management personnel and infrastructure, this is not even close to the [SEZ] Alabuga,” a local political scientist tells T-invariant on condition of anonymity.

If you analyze the speeches at the federal level by the general director of the company Kozarenko, he always particularly emphasizes the roleGovernor Azarov, and the official himself is actively commenting on this project (as in the case of the drone assembly plant in the Alabuga SEZ, Tatarstan’s Rais Minnikhanov is always being promoted).

Let us recall that Iranian “Shaheds” have been assembled in Alabuga for a year now, including with the help of minors studying at the local college “Alabuga-Polytech”. Protocol publication and told with reference to intelligence data foreign media. As in Alabuga, in Togliatti we learn information about the production of combat drones from sources who ask for anonymity, and we have very little information.

At the same time, the positioning of production at the moment is purely peaceful: at the presentation in Togliatti, representatives of Transport of the Future LLC, local and regional authorities, employees of the Zhigulevskaya Dolina technology park presented the project in the spirit of the pre-war time: Drone brings pizza, and now it is already being tasted by Tolyatti teenagers, whose data is actively collected right there on the spot and they are being encouraged to train as UAV pilots.

Teenagers study the products of the group of companies EFKO at a presentation in Togliatti. Photo: “Transport of the future”

Silence around the “Transport of the Future”

Another indirect evidence that the declared plans of Transport of the Future are at odds with the military present – the desire of the beneficiaries of the business – the EFKO group of companies – to pretend as much as possible that the ambitious business the empire has nothing to do with production in Togliatti.

So the group’s press secretary Olga Lamok, having received a message from T-invariant, first wrote that “you can send questions, but “EFKO” and “Transport of the Future” are not officially connected” , and then, having received an extensive list of questions, after a week of deliberation, she replied that the Civil Code would leave all questions without comment. Including questions about the “first thousand FPV drones,” about the assembly of Iranian drones at the SEZ site, and about working for military purposes.

Ekaterina Evlanova, the press secretary of Transport of the Future LLC, also refused to answer the questions sent. It was also not possible to contact the executive director and co-owner of EFKO Group of Companies Sergei Ivanov, who is very active your telegram channel. He himself did not respond to T-invariant’s attempts to contact him in the comments, and Eva Zanina, listed as the contact person for Sergei Ivanov’s telegram channel, did not help to receive his comments.

Dmitry Peskov – Vladimir Putin’s special representative for digitalization (left) and Sergey Ivanov – executive director and co-owner of EFKO Group (right). Photo: Telegram channel of Sergei Ivanov

Why doesn’t EFKO talk about drones in Togliatti?

EFKO Group of Companies and its top management not only do not comment at all on what is happening in Togliatti, but also diligently distance themselves from their role as the founder of the companyth, building production in Tolyatti (although this is obvious to anyone who looks at the SPARK database or respects the media). For example, Sergei Ivanov in his channel “Sergei Ivanov from EFKO” never once mentioned either investments in the production of UAVs in Tolyatti, or two companies “Transport of the Future LLC” and “Transport-Future Samara” LLC, although the overwhelming number of posts are professional The topic concerns specifically the innovative areas of activity of the Group of Companies “EFKO” and their innovation center “Biryuch”. And in addition to the truly diverse biotech (scientists interviewed by T-invariant who visited there highly appreciated the R&D potential of the center), this is also the design of UAVs, about which there is a lot of information both on EFKO website and on the website itself IC “Biruch”, and in Ivanov’s channel there are posts about drones from EFKO, including self-ironicwere also encountered).

The company is doing everything possible to highlight its role in the biotech industry. Just the other day, EFKO Innovation Director Rostislav Kovalevsky participated in the meeting Putin with young scientists at the Congress in Sochi. Here he reports on what he has achieved Putin has approval regarding the creation of an expert council for the popularization of innovative products (having I mean biotech, which EFKO specializes in). Sergei Ivanov regularly talks about “food of the future” at the most prestigious public platforms: in Skolkovoor under the enthusiastic comments of German Gref at another conference.

But its role is no less, but in fact much more important and priority for the Kremlin and for Putin personallyin the direction of strengthening the drone power of the Russian Federation “EFKO” bashfully (or maybe pragmatically) hides. Let’s try to understand why.

“Sect” on mayonnaise

GC “EFKO” famous throughout the country for sunflower oil and mayonnaise. It is well known to interested HR specialists and journalists for its charismatic and powerful founder, its unconventional corporate policy (some even use the word “sect” and in some ways Valery Kustov’s company even plays along with the rumor (see text Forbes back in 2006. Sergei Ivanov also commented on this topic in detail and clearly with pleasure several times, including quite recently (see post “Why EFKO is called a “sect””).

Three heads of Russian HR companies interviewed by T-invariant confirmed that a wide variety of rumors are still circulating about the procedures and rules at EFKO Group of Companies. But this topic requires separate material; we will not dwell on it in detail.

EFKO Group wants to distance itself from combat drones because of active ones business interests in the UAE, Egypt and other countries of the Middle East, Africa and others macroregions, several T-invariant interlocutors believe.

And besides, 1.5 years after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the westNew countries have begun to include the main domestic suppliers of combat drones for the Russian army in the sanctions lists. We started with the Lancet manufacturer (in early November USA and literally yesterday, December 6 – Great Britain). Obviously, the sanctions will not be limited to one company.

It is also interesting for understanding the context that the current main public face of the company is Sergey Ivanov. KVN player in the past (performed together with Alexander Pushny), co-founder of the Dauria Aerospace company (main “private space company” Russian Federation since the so-called “Medvedev’s modernization”). According to reviews from former colleagues, he was always an “Orthodox patriot” and was very different from the second creator of “Dauria” – Mikhail Kokorich (joined Anti-War Committee of Russia). Kokorich read messages asking T-invariant for comment on Facebook and Telegram, but did not respond to them.

Yuri Kozarenko (to the left of Putin). Photo: VK-group LLC “Transport of the Future Samara”

Why does Transport of the Future need an “Afghan”, a hero of Russia?

The General Director of Transport of the Future LLC and Transport of the Future Samara LLC is Yuri Kozarenko, a native of the EFKO Group of Companies (see his Facebook and post on VKontakte), according to media reports, changed the post of general director of the Biryuch Information Center for 90% of the shares of Transport of the Future LLC. It is curious that for a couple of months, Igor Stankevich, a former State Duma deputy, Samara United Russia member, “Hero of Russia”, a participant in combat operations in Afghanistan and Chechnya, who had never had any business experience before, became the general director of Transport of the Future Samara LLC. The reason for his resignation (is it real or nominal?) not specifiedall participants in the events declined to comment for T-invariant.

At the same time, the interests of EFKO Group of Companies in this area, although not very public, are obvious. For example, the government commission on the development of unmanned aircraft systems includes V. A. Romantsev, a member of the board of directors of EFKO. Transport of the Future LLC and the National Technology Initiative (NTI) Foundation started the selection of startups in the field of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Sergey Andreev (second from right). Photo: “Transport of the future”

Unmanned silence

Everyone contacted in Togliatti (former and current SEZ employees, politicians, journalists, etc.) by T-invariant refused to talk about the construction of a UAV production facility, even on condition of anonymity. Sergei Andreev, general director of the Togliatti SEZ, former mayor of Tolyatti, former member of a number of democratic parties and Mikhail Prokhorov’s comrade-in-arms on the Civic Platform, also did not respond to a personal email.

Understand why everyone avoids talking about the company that is at the presentation feeds the crowd pizza from a droneand solemnly launches a UAV with medicines across the Volga, LeIt’s better if we take into account that the two UAV industries: peaceful and military, exist in the public field as if not noticing each other.

Only troublemakers – Z-military correspondents and particularly zealous local activists who do not hide the fact that they teach children how to control UAVs for future SVO missions and other military missions.

For example, Z-edition sums up in his study of the state of affairs with FPV drones the main problem at the front: it’s not so much the number of drones, but the number of trained UAV operators.

“If we now wave a magic wand and provide the front with tens of thousands of Russian kamikaze UAVs, we simply will not have such a number of operators. Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are planning a whole company of UAVs, including FPV format, for each brigade. This will make it possible to subsequently attack the positions of the Russian army with swarms of drones, which will greatly complicate the defense. Unfortunately, the reality in Ukraine is that the enemy learns from its mistakes and experience faster,” reports edition.

The text ends with the conclusion that in the Russian Federation there are too many regulatory restrictions both for increasing the number of combat drones and for training operators.

FPV drone operator. Photo: Telegram channel Russian drone

Drones instead of cars, black Shahedas instead of Chevy Nives

The most important similarity between the two screwdriver production facilities of the Iranian Shaheds in Alabuga and Tolyatti is the forced turn of the local SEZs from peaceful and creative activities to purely military tasks. After Putin declared war on Ukraine and the whole world on February 24, 2022, Alabuga, previously recognized as the best SEZ in Europe (according to the Financial Times), has lost its Western residents, who are literally Construction and business stopped for several days.

Both here and there kamikaze drones will be assembled in the place where no major international joint business has happened. In Togliatti – with GM, and in Alabuga – with Volkswagen.

Exactly where they are now planning to assemble deadly drones, a plant of the second generation of Chevrolet Niva cars was supposed to appear. To implement this project, AvtoVAZ JSC and the American GM created JV Systems LLC.

After GM left Russia, the real owner of JV Systems from 2019 to 2022 was the Renault concern, but the matter never got off the ground. And in November 2021, the President of AvtoVAZ JSC Yves Karakatzanis even “>spokewith claims to the Russian authorities regarding “illegal encroachments on real estate” .

Recall that the first joint venture between the automaker GM and AvtoVAZ was open back in 2001: this was one of the first signs of new life under the early Vladimir Putin. The cars produced at this production site were popularly called Chevy -niva” (Chevrolet Niva).

Black “Shaheds”. Photo: “UNIAN”


Why are the “Shaheds” called black in the title of this material? At the end of November 2023, reports appeared that Russia began to use a new modification of Iranian kamikaze drones (Russian name – “Geranium”) in raids on the territory of Ukraine. Now a drone, which was painted in light colors, painted black, reports “UNIAN”. Ukrainian media suggest that thanks to the new color “Shahedy” may try to make it more invisible to Ukrainian air defense systems, since the Russian Armed Forces use them mainly for night attacks. And in the popular consciousness, Avtovaz products, among other things, are remembered for the song “Cherry Nine” by the group “Combination” by Alena Apina (released in 1993, album “Two Pieces of Sausage”)    

Text: Evgeniy Nasyrov


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