The White House released new details of what it said was deepening co-operation between Russia and Iran on military drone production, including the supply route Iran uses to send its unmanned aerial vehicles to the front lines in Ukraine and the site of a possible Russian factory to produce them.
The information is part of a steady stream of declassified intelligence about military ties between Moscow and Tehran, as Washington seeks to ramp up the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over his war in Ukraine and starve him of military hardware.
“The drones are built in Iran, shipped across the Caspian Sea, from Amirabad, Iran, to Makhachkala, Russia, and then used operationally by Russian forces against Ukraine,” said John Kirby, the US National Security Council spokesman. “We are also concerned that Russia is working with Iran to produce Iranian UAVs from inside Russia.”
The US released a satellite image of Russia’s Alabuga special economic zone, which it said showed where Moscow was likely to produce Iranian drones. Kirby said the US had information indicating that Russia was receiving materials from Iran to build the drone manufacturing site.
“We are continuing to use all the tools at our disposal to expose and disrupt these activities including by sharing this with the public, and we are prepared to do more,” Kirby said.
The US on Friday announced a new government advisory to inform businesses and governments about the risks of Iran’s drone programme and the illicit ways Tehran obtains supplies for it. It previously blacklisted people and businesses it said were involved in transferring Iranian military equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine and has worked with European partners to impose restrictions to prevent electronic components found in Iranian drones ending up on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Iranian-made drones have been an important part of Russia’s air campaign against Ukraine that was ramped up in October. The UAVs have been used to attack critical infrastructure and residential targets in Kyiv, with many of the attacks resulting in the deaths of Ukrainian civilians.
Moscow last month further escalated its air attacks on the Ukrainian capital, launching dozens of the Shahed drones, along with cruise missiles and other rockets, in at least 18 bombardments in 31 days.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in one of his evening addresses last month that “about 1,160 Shaheds have been used against Ukraine” and that its air defences had “shot down almost 900 of these drones to date”.
In an appeal to the leadership in Tehran and “every Iranian family,” Zelenskyy also asked “why do you want to be accomplices in Russian terror? . . . Why does Iran need such cynical murders, committed by Russia’s hands, yet with your weapons?”
The US last year released satellite imagery and intelligence that it said indicated that Iran sold hundreds of attack drones to Moscow. Last month, the White House warned that Russia was looking to buy more attack drones from Iran after using up most of the 400 drones it had previously purchased from Tehran. Russia has received hundreds of one-way attack drones and drone production-related equipment from Iran as of May, Kirby said on Friday.
President Joe Biden’s administration has also warned that Iran is considering selling hundreds of ballistic missiles to Russia but so far such a deal has not come to pass.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said last month that Russia and Iran had “adapted to US pressure extremely well” and would “continue to build a relationship based on mutual benefit and respect, taking each other’s interests and concerns into account”. He said Russia “never had illusions” that the US would stop pressuring countries that “seek genuinely mutually beneficial co-operation”.
Iran has denied taking sides in the Ukraine war or selling drones to Russia for use on the battlefield. But Iranian military commanders have expressed interest in boosting military ties with Moscow, particularly buying Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets to reinvigorate its air force.
Additional reporting by Max Seddon in Riga and Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran