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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