Estonian military robot maker weighs production in Ukraine

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MILAN — Estonia’s Milrem Robotics is assessing the possibility of producing several of its unmanned platforms in Ukraine, a move that could put the company’s Emirati owners in a tricky position vis-à-vis the Gulf country’s ties to Russia.

At the First International Defense Industries Forum, held in Kyiv last month, Milrem announced that it had signed a cooperation agreement with local companies to facilitate the move. On the table is local manufacturing of Milrem’s THeMIS robot in the combat, engineering and casualty evacuation configurations.

As of this month, Milrem has delivered 15 THeMIS unmanned vehicles to Ukraine’s forces, the company said in a Jan. 11 statement.

Executives claim that vehicles are performing well, particularly in demining and cargo transport missions, based on frontline feedback.

“The UGVs are being used to clear areas from anti-tank mines as well as unexploded ordnances, transporting equipment to areas not accessible to conventional vehicles or where risk of losing that equipment is high,” Jüri Pajuste, who is in charge of the Ukrainian program at Milrem Robotics, was quoted as saying in the statement.

“UGV operators noted that during the bezdorizhzhia [the muddy season in Ukrainian], the ThEMIS can act as a resupply vehicle instead of heavy trucks that tend to get stuck,” Pajuste added.

As the Estonian firm is now owned by the Emirati defense conglomerate Edge Group, it is likely that any final decision regarding the production of the systems in Ukraine would ultimately necessitate approval from Abu Dhabi.

Spokespeople at both companies did not not immediately return a request for comment.

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the UAE has attempted to maintain a publicly neutral stance towards the war. The government has continued to maintain strong ties with Russia, as seen during Vladimir Putin’s visit to Abu Dhabi last month, his first time in the region since 2019.

During his meeting with his UAE counterpart, the Kremlin was quoted by CNBC as saying that relations between the two countries have reached an “unprecedented high level,” and that Abu Dhabi is Moscow’s “main trading partner in the Arab world.”

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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