Russia is using a strategy of attrition against Ukraine, trying to do as much damage as possible to get Kyiv to quit the war. And now we know a key weapons platform to achieve Moscow’s goals will be drones from Iran:
Russian officials previously traveled to Iran so they could be trained on how to use the explosive suicide drones that would later be deployed in attacks on Ukrainian cities, the US State Department said this week.
“We do have credible information that Russian officials, prior to the presence of Iranian trainers in Crimea, received training in Iran,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a Thursday briefing. It was not immediately clear how many individuals were part of the training, nor was it apparent when it took place.
His remarks came after he said Iranian military personnel recently visited the occupied Crimean peninsula, where they helped Russian forces operate suicide drones that have been used in recent weeks to terrorize Ukrainian cities far from the front lines.
“We can confirm that Russian military personnel based in Crimea have been … piloting Iranian UAVs and using them to conduct kinetic strikes across Ukraine, including in strikes against Kyiv in recent days,” Price said during the briefing. “We assess that Iranian personnel, Iranian military personnel, were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia in these operations.”
Price said his remarks about Iranian military personnel in Crimea echoed similar assessments from the White House, which confirmed media reports from earlier in the week saying the Iranians were present at a Russian military base in Crimea.
Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Thursday that it was unclear how many members of the Iranian military were physically there to help Russian forces operate the suicide drones.
“In terms of what that means, obviously, again, we continue to see Iran be complicit in terms of exporting terror, not only in the Middle East region, but now also to Ukraine,” Ryder said.
Russia and Iran have previously collaborated in various conflict zones across the Middle East, including working closely together in Syria, providing support for the Assad regime.
Both Moscow and Tehran have denied the use of Iranian-made suicide drones in Ukraine, despite mounting evidence and accusations from Western governments and intelligence agencies. In fact, a Russian defense ministry advisor was even recently caught on a hot mic revealing that Russia uses the drones, something the Kremlin doesn’t want to admit.
Suicide drones have emerged as a weapon of choice for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has deployed them in deadly swarms to attack Ukrainian cities — like Kyiv — and spread chaos hundreds of miles from the war’s front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Ukraine says it has been able to shoot down a majority of the incoming drones, but some of these systems are making it through, damaging civilian infrastructure and other targets.
Ukraine has identified these drones as the Shahed-136, which is a long-range loitering munition packed with explosives. These systems can fly around like normal drones and even linger around an area, but unlike other drones that return, these eventually slam into targets and detonate — leading people to refer to them as suicide or kamikaze drones.
“Russia must pay for this terror,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during a Thursday address to the European Council, asking for additional EU sanctions. He added that “Iran must be deprived of any possibility or even desire to supply such drones to anyone.”
Jake Epstein is a Junior Breaking News Reporter on the Speed Desk, based in Boston, where this first appeared. He focuses on military, defense, and security issues. Prior, he worked at The Times of Israel, freelanced in the Boston area, and interned at CBS Boston. He graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism and international relations in May 2020. At Lehigh, he was the editor in chief of the independent student newspaper The Brown and White.