U.S. national security council spokesman John Kirby has said that Russia is giving Iran an unprecedented level of military support and that reports show the two nations are considering working together to produce more deadly drones.
Tehran initially denied accusations that it supplied the “kamikaze” drones that destroyed energy infrastructure in Ukraine and killed civilians in October, yet later admitted it had supplied Russia with a “limited number” of the devices “many months” before Moscow’s illegal invasion.
The admission was quickly slammed as “a lie” by President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said that Iran had supplied Russia with far more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The Ukrainian air force has since confirmed it downed ten Iranian-made drones targeting Ukraine on Dec. 10 alone.
Strikes over the weekend left over 1.5 million people without power in Odesa, with previous drone and missile strikes damaging up to 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy system, leaving civilians across Ukraine to continue experiencing blackouts.
“Russia is seeking to collaborate with Iran in areas like weapons development, training,” Kirby told reporters on Dec. 9, saying that the U.S. feared Russia also intends to “provide Iran with advanced military components” including air defense systems and helicopters.
“Iran has become Russia’s top military backer,” he added. “Russia’s been using Iranian drones to strike energy infrastructure, depriving millions of Ukrainians of power, heat, critical services. People in Ukraine today are actually dying as a result of Iran’s actions.”
Reacting to Kirby’s comments, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told reporters that Iran and Russia’s growing relationship was a threat to global security.
Iran has so far sent hundreds of drones to Russia, he said.
“In return, Russia is offering military and technical support to the Iranian regime, which will increase the risk it poses to our partners in the Middle East and to international security.”
Cleverly added that the U.K. agreed with the U.S. that Iran’s support for Russia would increase in the coming months in line with Russia’s need for more weapons and ballistic missiles to continue its ongoing invasion.
Sanctions against drone suppliers
In November, the U.S. imposed fresh sanctions on companies and individuals accused of helping to produce and supply the drones used by Russia against Ukraine.
“As we have demonstrated repeatedly, the United Stated is determined to sanction people and companies, no matter where they are located, that support Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement on Nov. 15.
“Today’s action exposes and holds accountable companies and individuals that have enabled Russia’s use of Iranian-built UAVs to brutalize Ukrainian civilians.”
On Dec. 11, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its daily report that Russia is now deploying a “significantly higher number” of Iranian-made drones in Ukraine than in previous weeks.
“The increased pace of Russian drone attacks may indicate that Russian forces accumulated more drones over the three-week period of not using them or that Russia has recently received or expects soon to receive new shipments of drones from Iran,” the ISW said.
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