Canada's national security agencies will investigate reports that a British Columbia-based company's cutting-edge anti-drone technology was purchased by a Russian university — a possible violation of sanctions imposed on Moscow over its war on Ukraine — Defence Minister Bill Blair said Friday.
Blair spoke at the opening of the Halifax International Security Forum.
Ukrainian and Russian media are reporting that Vancouver-based Skycope Technologies Inc.'s SkyEye radar detector has been acquired by the Russian Mirea University of Technology, headquartered in Moscow.
In a statement published online in response to the media reports, the company vehemently denied the suggestion that it had violated the embargo. The company said it was the first time they'd heard of their device being used by the Russian university.
Blair said he's seen some reporting on the matter on social media, which he described as inaccurate. But the reports have caught the attention of Canadian authorities.
Defence Minister Bill Blair says Canada takes reports of sanctions violations "very seriously." (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
"It's a matter that will be ... investigated by our law enforcement and national security intelligence agencies," the minister said in response to a question from a Ukrainian journalist. "If there has been a violation of the sanctions that we put in place, there are legal processes that can then be followed."
Blair was quick to add that he didn't want to get ahead of the investigation "or any subsequent legal action that may take place.
"But I want to assure you, it's a matter that we take very seriously ..."
The counter-drone system has the ability to detect and recognize over 330 different types of drones — even at distances of up to 33 kilometres — and can cover an area of 194 square kilometres.
According to media reports out of Eastern Europe, the Russian technological university also purchased three Chinese-made drone guns — a lightweight, robust, rifle-style system — to integrate with the Canadian-made detector.
In its statement, Skycope Technologies Inc. said it cannot control the circulation of its products or prevent them from being counterfeited.
"We declare that we do not provide services to countries and regions banned by Canada," said the statement. "Furthermore, we do not have any distributors in countries that are under embargo."
The deal to acquire the technology reportedly was facilitated by Russian businessman Maxim Susloparov and run through both the Eurasian Economic Union — an association of five former Soviet states that includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia — and the Moscow-based company Techcom.
The university issued a tender for the purchase of the system in early May and it was delivered during the first week of June, according to reports in Ukrainian Pravda and the Kyiv Independent.
Russia skirts sanctions on military tech
While none of the companies or individuals cited in the Eastern European media reports appear on the Canadian sanctions list, the technology is apparently under tight control.
But a number of international reports have noted Moscow's success in getting around high-tech sanctions with the use of third countries and middlemen to broker deals for restricted western technology.
A report last spring by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) noted that the Kremlin's favourite sanctions-busting routes pass through Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, a shadowy network of companies in North America trick legitimate companies into selling them restricted military technology or dual-use tech.
Recently, U.S. justice officials charged two Russian-Canadians citizens from Montreal and a Brooklyn man with conspiracy to evade sanctions by purchasing electronics from companies in the United States and shipping them overseas.
U.S. court records accuse Kristina Puzyreva, 32, her husband Nikolay Goltsev, 37, and Salimdzhon Nasriddinov, 52, of smuggling, conspiracy to violate sanctions and wire fraud conspiracy.
The records allege Goltsev bought American electronic components for the Russian military while living in Canada over several years.