Iran will help Russia build drones for Ukraine war, officials say


After weeks of ravaging Ukrainian cities with Iranian-made drones, Moscow has quietly struck a deal with Tehran to start manufacturing hundreds of unmanned armed planes on Russian soil, according to new intelligence seen by the US. United and other Western security agencies.

Russian and Iranian officials finalized the deal at a meeting in Iran in early November, and the two countries are moving quickly to transfer key designs and components that could see production begin within months, three officials said. close to the file during interviews.

The deal, if fully realized, would represent a further deepening of a Russian-Iranian alliance that has already provided crucial support for Moscow’s faltering military campaign in Ukraine, the officials said. By acquiring its own assembly line, Russia could significantly increase its stockpile of relatively inexpensive but highly destructive weapons systems that in recent weeks have changed the character of the war in Ukraine.

Russia has deployed more than 400 Iranian-made attack drones against Ukraine since August, according to intelligence officials, with many aircraft being used in strikes against civilian infrastructure targets such as power plants. After being forced to abandon Ukrainian territory, its forces captured at the start of the war, Moscow shifted to a strategy of relentless air assaults on Ukrainian cities, using a combination of cruise missiles and self-detonating drones stuffed explosives to cut off electricity and running water. for millions of people.

For Moscow, the deal could meet a critical need for precision-guided munitions, which are in short supply after nine months of fighting. The arrangement also offers substantial economic and political benefits to Iran, officials say. As Tehran has sought to portray itself as neutral in the war against Ukraine, the appearance of Iranian-made drones over Ukrainian cities has sparked threats of further economic sanctions from Europe. Iranian leaders may believe they can avoid further sanctions if the drones are physically assembled in Russia, officials said.

Details of the Iran-Russia deal were finalized at the meeting in early November, which involved a team of Russian defense industry negotiators who traveled to Tehran to work out logistics, according to security officials from two countries who monitored the events. The officials agreed to discuss the matter on the condition that their identities and nationalities are not revealed, citing the need to protect sensitive and ongoing intelligence-gathering efforts.

A separate delegation led by Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev visited Tehran on November 9 to discuss, among other topics, economic sanctions and other “Western interference” in the affairs of their governments, according to Russian and Iranian news media.

One of the officials briefed on the secret deal described an aggressive effort by the two countries to facilitate the production of Iranian-designed drones inside Russia.

“He moves quickly from decision-making to implementation,” the official said. “It’s moving fast and there’s a lot of steam.”

Iran to supply Russia with more drones and missiles

Several NATO countries, including the United States, also saw the intelligence, but government officials declined to discuss specifics. The White House declined to comment on the specific report of the Russian-Iranian collaboration.

But National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement to The Washington Post: “Iran and Russia may lie to the world, but they cannot hide the facts: Tehran helps kill civilians Ukrainians by supplying arms and assisting Russia in its operations. This is another sign of the isolation of Iran and Russia.

“The United States – along with its allies and partners – is seeking every means to expose, deter, and confront Iran’s supply of these munitions and their use by Russia against the Ukrainian people. We will continue to provide Ukraine with the essential security assistance it needs to defend itself, including air defense systems,” Watson added.

A spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Washington referred the reporters to the Russian Federation’s Defense Ministry, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Iran’s UN mission in New York, in response to questions about the reported technology-sharing deal, declined to address the specific allegations. But a spokesman acknowledged that Iran and Russia had “maintained bilateral cooperation in defence, science and research, which predates the start of the Ukrainian conflict”.

While Tehran has publicly declared its neutrality in the war, Iran has “prioritized increasing defense cooperation with other countries” in the two years since a resolution of the UN restricting Iran’s ability to sell weapons, said Mahdi Nourian, the mission’s minister-counsellor.

“Following allegations of Iranian drone use in the Ukrainian conflict, Iran has requested a joint expert meeting with Ukrainian authorities to examine these allegations,” Nourian said. “Important steps have been taken so far in the collaborative dialogue between Iranian and Ukrainian defense experts, and this will continue to clear up any misunderstandings on this matter.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has harshly criticized Iran’s decision to supply arms to Russia and called for new sanctions against the Islamic republic. “His complicity in Russian terrorism must be punished,” he said in a televised speech on November 6.

After previously denying supplying drones or missiles to Russia, an Iranian spokesman acknowledged earlier this month that Tehran had sold some of its drones to Moscow, but did so before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24. question following independent reviews of downed drones recovered inside Ukraine. Some of the drones contained Iranian parts stamped with a manufacture date of February 2022, casting doubt that the aircraft could have been assembled, shipped to Russia and deployed before the war began.

Iran has a long tradition of supplying arms to pro-Tehran militias, as well as helping key allies kick off indigenous production of Iranian-designed missiles and drones. Former beneficiaries include Shia governments and militias in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria, said Michael KnightsMiddle East military and security specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In the hands of militias, Iranian drones emerge as a powerful new wildcard in the Middle East

“In this case, Iran is acting as a design office for a great power,” Knights said. “Iran’s economic design and half a century of covert Western technology sourcing are married to the industrial scale of a great power, Russia. This will benefit both Russia and Iran.

Russia already has a range of unarmed aerial vehicles, or UAVs, which are primarily used for surveillance and artillery spotting. But Moscow has not invested in large fleets of armed drones of the type that US forces routinely use in military campaigns in Afghanistan and the Middle East. After spending thousands of its precision-guided missiles on strikes against Ukraine, Russia has increasingly turned to its Iranian partner for attack drones that Knights describes as “the wave of the future: cheap, fast and good enough”.

Russian factories have previously made minor changes to some of the drones purchased from Iran, for example changing the nomenclature and color scheme to make them look more like Russian munitions. But so far there has been no indigenous production of Iranian-designed drones on Russian soil, according to security officials briefed on the new technology-sharing deal.

Officials said it was unclear what kind of assistance Tehran expects from Moscow in return, beyond money and benefits that come from a strengthened alliance. In the past, Russia has provided Iran with a surveillance satellite to allow him to spy on his neighbors, as well as key components for the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Western media reported that Iran could be seek additional nuclear aid in return for aiding Russia’s military campaign.

“What is ‘demand?’ We’re not sure,” one of the officials said. “Obviously the Russians are offering diplomatic and economic assistance. They are also aware of the international pressure on Iran, and they want to help alleviate that.

A key question, according to weapons experts, is whether Russia can acquire or manufacture the kinds of electronic and optical systems that enable Iranian drones to successfully carry out precision strikes over long distances. Economic sanctions imposed on Iran and Russia have severely restricted the sale of sensitive technologies, including electronic guidance systems, to the two countries.

An independent analysis of Iranian drones recovered from the Ukrainian battlefield has revealed the extent of Iran’s continued dependence on foreign countries for key components. A report from October based on examinations of three types of Iranian-built drones – the Mohajer-6, Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 – identified the existence of engine and electronic parts built by American, German and Chinese companies , according to the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based nonprofit that conducted the analysis.

While it’s unclear exactly how Iran obtained the parts, Tehran has a long history of circumventing international sanctions designed to disrupt work on weapons systems as well as its nuclear facilities, according to the report.

The impending expiration next year of a UN embargo on Iranian ballistic missile sales could give Tehran an extra boost as an arms dealer, meaning it “will be free to continue to sell its weapons to Russia and others,” the report said.

Shane Harris and Paul Sonne contributed to this report.

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