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Remote lockouts reportedly stop Russian troops from using stolen Ukrainian farm equipment

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Troops hauled the inoperable equipment as far as 700 miles away

Russians Continue War In Ukraine
Some of the equipment had built-in GPS trackers.
Photo by Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Russian troops stole almost $5 million worth of farm equipment from a John Deere dealer in the occupied city of Melitopol, Ukraine, only to discover that the machines have been shut down remotely, making them inoperable, according to a report from CNN. Some of the equipment, which comes with a remote locking feature and a built-in GPS, was tracked over 700 miles away in the Zakhan Yurt village of Chechnya.

A source close to the situation told CNN that Russian troops gradually began taking machinery away from the dealer following their occupation of Melitopol in March. It reportedly started with two combine harvesters worth $300,000 each, a tractor, and a seeder, until troops hauled away all 27 pieces of equipment. Some of the equipment went to Chechnya, while others reportedly landed in a nearby village.

“When the invaders drove the stolen harvesters to Chechnya, they realized that they could not even turn them on, because the harvesters were locked remotely,” CNN’s source told the outlet.

Although the pieces of equipment were remotely disabled, CNN’s source says that Russian troops may be trying to find a way around the block, as they’re in contact with “consultants in Russia who are trying to bypass the protection.” In addition to farm equipment, Russian troops have also reportedly been stealing grain in the area, one of Ukraine’s biggest exports.

Farming equipment has become surprisingly high-tech, for better or for worse. John Deere in particular has been the center of a right-to-repair debate, as its software bars farmers from fixing their equipment themselves. As the company demonstrated in this case of stolen farm equipment, John Deere is free to shut down its machines whenever it pleases, although it told Bloomberg in 2020 that it “never activated this capacity, except in construction equipment in China, where financing terms require it to.” Some farmers have even gone so far as to download pirated John Deere firmware to evade the company’s clutches.

This isn’t the first time that looting has backfired on Russian troops during its invasion of Ukraine. According to a report from The Times, a Ukrainian man has been using Apple’s Find My feature — which locates a device using Bluetooth signals that bounce off other nearby Apple devices — to track the movements of Russian troops after they stole his AirPods. He’s been able to view their movements on a map and even watched them as they appeared to retreat from an attack on Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv. A researcher in California was similarly able to watch Russian troops invade Ukraine by using a combination of Google Maps and radar imagery.