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Watchdog: US comms company Iridium keeps Moscow office, works for Russian defense industry

Ukrainian journalists’ project Trap Agressor revealed it in its new investigation.
A Russian Kartograf drone which operates thanks to Iridium products as well as other components manufactured in Japan and Germany. Photo by Trap Aggressor
Watchdog: US comms company Iridium keeps Moscow office, works for Russian defense industry

According to the investigation by Trap Aggressor, a Ukrainian watchdog investigating Russia sanctions compliance for Western companies, a Russian military company producing drones still uses navigation systems made by the American Iridium, a global satellite communications company.

Even during the full-scale war, the businesses did not stop cooperating. One of Iridium’s offices still operates in Moscow, Trap Aggressor claims.

The investigation states that the Russian military company AFM has produced a new modification of a drone with the “Ptero” system, which performs its tasks solely thanks to the navigation system produced by Iridium.

According to trade databases, in 2015-2022, the Russian company Iridium Communications purchased products directly from the US company Iridium Satellite. In 2023, Iridium Communications imported machines made by Iridium Satellite for receiving and converting voice and images indirectly through some unknown intermediaries. 

As well, in 2022, Moscow-based Iridium Communications gave access to the international satellite radio communication system to the National Guard of Russia (Rosgvardiya). In March 2022, after the start of Russia’s invasion, one of the founding companies of Iridium Communications, the state-owned enterprise Morsviazsputnik, provided services to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

According to the Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention, the Moscow subsidiary of the American company has valid contracts for satellite communications services to the armed forces of Russia.

Also, the Cartographer drone, used by Russia in the war against Ukraine, is filled with foreign-made components manufactured by companies in Germany, the United States, and Japan, Trap Aggressor reported.

Among the identified components are a spark plug made by the Japanese company NGK, DIGI XBee wireless connection modules by the US company DIGI international, and chips made by Xilinx, also from the US. According to experts, the drone’s engine is made in Germany.

Update: in a written note to Euromaidan Press, Iridium stated that it does “not condone the use of our technology in these Russian drones” and “would appreciate any additional information regarding the system used, including SIM card number and module, so we can investigate how this happened.”

“Any information regarding which specific Iridium partner served as the connectivity partner would also be appreciated, as we are a wholesale operator and do not have end-user account information but require all of our partners to comply with applicable laws, including avoiding sales of Iridium services to sanctioned parties. We have structured our operations to comply with US sanctions and additionally stopped shipment of end-user equipment to Russia immediately upon the Ukrainian invasion. We also contractually prohibit our partners from doing so. Our primary focus has been and remains on supporting Ukraine where our service is being used extensively – there are many thousands of handsets and IoT devices helping the Ukrainians,” Jordan Hassin, Executive Director of Iridium wrote.

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