Sullivan said Iran was also preparing to train Russians in the use of weapons, with the first training sessions expected to begin as early as this month.
“Our information indicates that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred drones, including weapons-capable drones on an expedited schedule,” Sullivan told reporters in the House briefing room. White.
“It is not known if Iran has ever delivered any of these drones to Russia,” Sullivan said, “but this is just one example of how Russia is looking to countries like Iran. ‘Iran for Building.’
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The revelation comes as President Biden prepares to depart for the Middle East, where he is expected to hold talks with key allies on a unified regional policy toward Iran. Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen further in recent weeks, amid failed nuclear talks and an upsurge in rocket and drone attacks on US military installations in the Middle East, carried out by militias armed and financed by Iran.
While Russia has its own arsenal of drones, the arrival of Iranian planes could help Moscow rebuild a key weapons system that has suffered heavy losses during the four months of conflict. Surveillance drones play a crucial role in targeting enemy forces with artillery, and armed drones can hover over the battlefield for hours, launching missiles capable of destroying tanks and other armored vehicles.
The reception of the drones is a “significant statement” about the limits of Russian capabilities, said Frederick Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.
There are various indications that Russian-backed forces lack precision weapons, which Iranian drones would change, he added.
“It’s hard to gauge what the effect will be, but it will clearly give the Russians more ability to conduct air attacks, presumably deeper into Ukrainian territory than they currently have,” Kagan said.
Ukraine has used drones – many supplied by NATO countries like Turkey – to destroy hundreds of Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers since the invasion began. Moscow, which now finds itself diplomatically isolated and under heavy economic sanctions, is struggling to replace some of its lost military hardware, while Ukraine receives billions of dollars worth of weapons, including artillery systems peak of the United States.
“From our perspective, we will continue to do our part to help maintain Ukraine’s effective defense,” Sullivan said, “and to help the Ukrainians show that the Russian effort to try to wipe out Ukraine of the card cannot succeed.”
Iran has become a major manufacturer of unmanned aircraft in recent years. Among its military models is the Shahed-129, which closely resembles the American-made Predator drone used in overseas military and counterterrorism operations. Some military experts believe the Shahed-129 is a Predator clone, a reverse-engineered US spy plane that crashed in Iran several years ago.
Biden’s visit to Saud highlights tensions between human rights and security concerns
Iranian leaders have freely shared drone systems with outside groups, particularly pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Iranian-designed drones have been used to attack US and allied military bases in the Middle East, as well as civilian targets such as oil refineries.
Over the years, Russia has been a key trading partner and occasional military ally of Iran. While Moscow has joined the United States and the European Union in backing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it has also fought alongside Iran to help defend Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad – an ally key to both countries – during Syria’s 11-year civil war.
Iran’s apparent decision to provide military assistance to Moscow could further undermine efforts to revive the nuclear deal. After President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018, Iran reneged on its promise to limit its stockpile of enriched uranium to levels well below what would be needed to build a nuclear weapon. Since then, Tehran has exceeded agreed restrictions and now has enough fissile material to make at least one bomb, should it decide to do so, according to nuclear weapons experts. US intelligence agencies say they have seen no evidence so far that Iran has started manufacturing real weapons.
Some Iranian experts predict the country could try to disrupt Biden’s upcoming visit to the Middle East by allowing his proxy groups to carry out a provocation, such as a missile strike targeting a US military installation.
“An attack during the summit could have several advantages for Tehran,” Michael Eisenstadt, director of the military and security studies program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in an essay posted Monday on the group’s website. Among the possible benefits: “humiliating American officials and their Saudi hosts [and] demonstrating that Washington cannot protect its friends even during the President’s visit,” he wrote.
Praveena Somasundaram contributed to this report.