Independent news outlets have published photos of the remains of what appear to be Iranian-made drones used in strikes against Ukrainian targets in recent days, questioning Iran’s repeated denials that it provided such arms to its ally Russia. Pentagon officials have also publicly confirmed the use of Iranian drones in Russian airstrikes, as well as Ukraine’s success in downing some of the drones.
In an apparent sign of Iran’s expanded role as a military supplier to Moscow, Tehran dispatched officials to Russia on September 18 to finalize terms for shipments of additional weapons, including two types of Iranian surface-to-surface missiles. , according to officials of a US – allied country that closely monitors Iran’s military activity.
An intelligence assessment shared in recent days with Ukrainian and American officials claims that the Iranian arms industry is preparing a first delivery of Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar missiles, two well-known missiles Iranian short-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets at ranges of 300 and 700 kilometers, respectively, two officials briefed on the matter said. If carried out, it would be the first delivery of such missiles to Russia since the start of the war.
The officials spoke on the condition that their names and nationalities would not be revealed due to the extreme sensitivities surrounding intelligence-gathering efforts.
In August, the same officials identified specific Iranian drones, the Shahed series and the Mohajer-6, which Tehran was beginning to supply to Russia for use in Ukraine. The remains of both types have been recovered, analyzed and photographed by Ukrainian forces in recent weeks. Russia appears to have repainted the weapons and given them Russian names.
Officials briefed on the planned missile shipment said Iran was also preparing new deliveries of unmanned aerial vehicles for Russia, including “dozens” of additional Mohajer-6s and more Shahed-136s. . The latter, sometimes called “kamikaze” drones because they are designed to crash into their targets, are capable of delivering explosive payloads at ranges of up to 1,500 miles. Iranian technical advisers have traveled to Russian-controlled areas in recent weeks to provide instruction on the operation of the drones, the officials said.
US intelligence agencies declined to comment on reports of pending Iranian shipments to Russia. Russian and Iranian officials on Saturday did not respond to requests for comment on reports of Iranian missiles heading for Russia.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has not and will not supply any weapons to be used in the war in Ukraine”. according to a Saturday reading of his call with his Portuguese counterpart. “We believe arming either side of the crisis will prolong the war.”
On October 3, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kan’ani reiterated Iran’s persistent denials of any involvement in supplying drones to Russia. “The Islamic Republic of Iran considers reports of the delivery of drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine to be ‘baseless’ and does not confirm them,” he said. Kan’ani reaffirmed Iran’s claim to neutrality in the conflict and stressed the need for “both sides to resolve their issues through political means without violence.”
The Kyiv government has been made aware of the evidence behind the new intelligence, a Ukrainian official told The Washington Post. Ukraine has separately assessed that the majority of drones recently deployed by Russia in southern Ukraine are Iranian-made.
Ukraine recently downgraded diplomatic ties with Tehran in response to the appearance of Iranian-made drones on the battlefield. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cited Russia’s recent airstrikes last week when urging NATO nations to provide his country with advanced air defense systems.
“We must protect our skies from the terror of Russia,” Zelensky said Thursday in a speech to the Council of Europe.
Like Iran, Russia has pushed back against Western reports of Iranian arms shipments for its Ukrainian campaign, with Russian President’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling such accounts “false”.
But Iranian drones have already made their mark, destroying several Ukrainian tanks and damaging civilian infrastructure in repeated strikes over the past three weeks, according to Ukrainian officials. Missile experts say the arrival of surface-to-surface missiles could give Russia powerful new weapons as Kyiv forces reclaim captured territory across large swaths of southern and eastern Ukraine, successes that are partly due to the artillery provided by the West.
“The progression from drones to surface-to-surface missiles could give the Russians more options and a lot of punch,” said Farzin Nadimian expert on Iranian weapons at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington think tank.
Iran has one of the largest and most diverse short- and medium-range missile arsenals in the Middle East. While Iranian weapons designers have encountered reliability issues, the latest versions of the Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar are considered by experts to be both powerful and reasonably accurate at relatively short ranges, Nadimi said. Some models are equipped with electro-optical guidance systems that allow missile operators to guide them on their final approach to the target.
Iran previously supplied the same missiles to proxy militias in the Middle East, including Houthi fighters in Yemen. Houthi forces have deployed Iranian-designed missiles in military parades and used them in attacks on oil refineries and other civilian targets in neighboring Gulf countries.
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.
Moscow commanded a vast arsenal of precision-guided missiles and rockets at the start of the invasion of Ukraine, but US officials say its stock has been greatly reduced during the war, now in its seventh month.
According to a presentation by a senior US intelligence official on Friday, Russia’s growing reliance on countries like Iran and North Korea is proof of the impact of sanctions and export controls imposed by Western countries following the invasion of Ukraine.
According to information presented by Deputy Director of National Intelligence Morgan Muir, Russia has lost more than 6,000 pieces of equipment since the start of the war and was “expending ammunition at an unsustainable rate”.
Prevented by sanctions from obtaining Western electronics, Russia “looks to countries like Iran and North Korea for supplies and equipment,” including drones, artillery munitions and weapons. rockets, Muir said, speaking to a group of senior international finance officials at the Treasury Department.
Muir also noted that the Russian defense industry relies heavily on imports of materials such as microprocessors and optical and thermal imaging technology.