One of the most important suppliers to Russia’s drone program is an Russian expat and resident of Toronto
By Stephen Grey, Maurice Tamman and Maria Zholobova
Dec 15, 2022
The hundreds of Russian drones hovering ominously over the Ukrainian battlefield owe their existence to an elastic, sanctions-evading supply chain that often runs through a shabby office above a Hong Kong marketplace, and sometimes through a yellow stucco home in suburban Florida.
An investigation by Reuters and iStories, a Russian media outlet, in collaboration with the Royal United Services Institute, a defence think tank in London, has uncovered a logistical trail that spans the globe, including Canada, and ends at the Orlan’s production line, the Special Technology Centre in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Among the most important suppliers to Russia’s drone program has been a Hong Kong-based exporter, Asia Pacific Links Ltd, which, according to Russian customs and financial records, provided millions of dollars in parts, though never directly. Many of the parts are microchips from U.S. manufacturers.
Asia Pacific’s exports to Russia were primarily delivered to one importer in St. Petersburg with close ties to the Special Technology Centre, those customs records show. The import company, SMT iLogic, shares an address with the drone maker and has numerous other connections.
Asia Pacific’s owner, Anton Trofimov, is an expatriate Russian who graduated from a Chinese university and has other business interests in China as well as a company in Toronto, Canada, according to his LinkedIn profile and other corporate filings.
According to public records, Trofimov is a resident of a modest East York neighbourhood of Toronto. He did not respond to questions sent by email and LinkedIn. A woman who answered the door identified herself as Trofimov’s wife and said she would pass along a message for him to contact Reuters. He never did.
Financial records provided by a Russian official and reviewed by Reuters show the Special Technology Centre relies on a number of suppliers, but most notably iLogic. According to a record of iLogic’s own bank receipts and payments seen by Reuters, iLogic works almost exclusively for the drone maker.
Since 2017, iLogic has imported about US$70 million of mostly electronic products into Russia, according to customs records. And according to financial documents examined by iStories and
Reuters, nearly 80 per cent of the company’s income is from its business with the Special Technology Centre.
In turn, those same financial records show the Special Technology Centre’s biggest customer is Russia’s Ministry of Defence, which paid it nearly 6 billion rubles (US$99 million) between February and August of this year. The examined records list all transfers to and from the company’s bank accounts during that period.
Reached by phone, Alexey Terentyev, a top scientist and major shareholder at the Special Technology Centre, said the war has forced it to focus on making drones.
“Due to the high demand for Orlans, we do not have the resources to do something else now. The demand for it is much bigger than we can produce,” he said.
U.S. sanctions had caused the company problems, he said, but it always found someone in the world to sell it what it needed. “Sanctions were imposed on us by one of the most powerful countries in the world,” Terentyev said. “We should be proud of this.”
Terentyev declined to say if iLogic was one of those suppliers. Asked about iLogic, he said, “You ask me about a company I don’t know.” Reminded that he was listed as one of iLogic’s founders in Russian corporate records, he said that if his name showed up in documents, it was “likely correct” he was a shareholder. “Yes, I remember something,” he said. But he could not recall what iLogic did. “I have lost connection with this company,” he said.
Those corporate records show iLogic is based at the same St Petersburg office address as the Special Technology Centre. Russian corporate records show it was founded by Terentyev and other senior executives of the drone maker or their relatives.
In a brief telephone interview, Roman Agafonnikov, chief executive officer of the Special Technology Centre, said he didn’t know anything about iLogic.