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Faith Nyasuguta

Russian and Chinese companies are reportedly collaborating to develop an attack drone similar to Iran’s Shahed, Bloomberg reported, citing unnamed European officials. 

Note that Russia has heavily relied on Iran’s Shahed drones to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defenses. Now, European officials say Russia is working with China to create its own version.

According to these officials, the companies started designing and testing the drone earlier this year, in preparation for shipment to Russia. The collaboration discussions began last year. Although the drones have yet to be deployed in Ukraine, the move raises concerns for Ukraine and its allies.

Since launching its full-scale invasion in February 2022, Russia has relied significantly on Iran’s Shahed drone, including its newer and customized variants, to challenge Ukraine’s air defenses. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin appear after a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum /CNN/

In January, Russia was suspected of using an Iranian jet-powered Shahed-238, an upgrade in speed and altitude over the Shahed-136 loitering munition. Russia has developed its own version of these drones, known as Geran-2, similar to Shahed-136s but made with different materials, researchers at Conflict Armament Research told The New York Times last year.

European officials have expressed concerns that China could develop these drones at a much higher rate than Iran or Russia. This would be a significant development, highlighting Russia’s growing dependence on China amid severe Western economic sanctions. It would also demonstrate China’s increasing role as an enabler of Russia’s war in Ukraine, despite Beijing’s claims of neutrality.

The European officials did not specify the name of the drone being developed. However, media outlets and Chinese defense websites have reported that China is working on the Sunflower 200, an exploding attack drone similar in appearance to the Shahed 136, according to Bloomberg.

The potential partnership between Russia and China on drone development could mark a troubling escalation in the conflict, providing Russia with a new and potentially more efficient means of assaulting Ukraine. The development indicates the evolving dynamics of international alliances and the growing technological capabilities being brought to bear in modern warfare.


This collaboration also reflects broader geopolitical shifts, as Russia seeks to mitigate the impacts of Western sanctions by deepening ties with China. For Ukraine and its allies, the development of new, sophisticated drones by Russia and China could present a new challenge in the ongoing conflict, necessitating further strategic and technological adjustments in their defense measures.


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Faith Nyasuguta

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