A recent report by the investigative journalists of the publication "Protocol" and the YouTube channel "RZVRT," has revealed Russian authorities are exploiting students by using them in the mass production of Iranian Shahed attack drones.
The report claims the Alabuga Polytech, an educational institution which promises to give its students the skills to master the “professions of the future”, is forcing students to work for little money and days on end without adequate rest.
The students’ salaries involved in building the drones depend on their meeting production quotas, leading to an average monthly income of only around 30-40 thousand rubles ($250 - $320).
“Everyone is afraid. I'm not allowed to say that at all. The management intimidates us very much about this,” one anonymous student said.
The investigation revealed that students involved in drone production are bound by an agreement that forbids them from disclosing any information about “Alabuga.” Violating the terms of this agreement can result in severe penalties.
“No one says or will say anything. I'm risking enough now, too, because they have cameras everywhere, wiretaps,” said another of the students.
Another said, “It is impossible to leave the project. You either drop out, or you stay involved in the project.”
Expulsion from the college would end up in substantial financial loss for the student's family. Upon admission to the college, parents are required to sign a document that obliges them to pay a large fine in case of expulsion.
For students in law and economics, the amount can reach up to 420 thousand rubles ($3400), while for other subject areas, it is around 170 thousand rubles ($1400).
Alabuga was considered to have been one of the most successful SEZ in Europe by the Financial Times for three years running between in 2015-18.
According to the journalists, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Denis Manturov, visited Alabuga in November 2022 with a motive that was different to that publicly stated.
Instead of being there to “restart the automobile plant,” as claimed, he was there allegedly to “accelerate drone production.”
The investigation says that this is how Alabuga decided to pay for the mobilization of its employees and compensate for losses from harsh Western sanctions.
According to information provided to the investigation, the contract value with Iran for the assembly of drones is believed to be in the range of 115-130 billion rubles ($1.45 billion).
When reviewing internal documents relating to the project it was found that it refers to drones as “boats,” while Iran is codenamed “Belarus.”
According to the investigation, there are plans to reduce reliance on components provided by Iran in the future. Russia allegedly intends to handle some production internally while also purchasing certain components from AliExpress, the Chinese online retail service owned by the Alibaba Group.
In the meantime, Russia will continue to receive drone warheads from Iran, but then it hopes to establish its own production.
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