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Iran said to send IRGC military trainers to aid Russia deploy drones against Ukraine

Revolutionary Guards members reportedly assisting Russian troops in Crimea as Moscow bombards Ukrainian infrastructure

People react as a drone fires on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
People react as a drone fires on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Iran has sent military trainers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to Russian-occupied Crimea to help Moscow’s troops use Iranian drones against Ukraine, according to Tuesday reports.

Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russia of deploying Iranian-made drones in attacks against Ukraine in recent weeks as Moscow and Tehran appear to be growing closer.

Russia has been bombarding Ukraine with the drones and other weapons in attacks against Ukrainian energy and infrastructure sites. Ukraine believes Russia has used dozens of Iranian “kamikaze” drones in attacks on civilian targets, including in Kyiv.

Iranian trainers are assisting Russia in the campaign out of a military base in Crimea, The New York Times reported, citing current and former US officials who had been briefed on classified intelligence.

Many of the Iranian drones have been based in Crimea since they were delivered to Russia, the report said.

The Iranian personnel are said to be members of the IRGC, a branch of the military the US lists as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Iran has deployed the IRGC to other foreign theaters such as Yemen.

Russia initially sent its own personnel to Iran to learn how to use the drones, but the weapons were plagued by problems after they arrived in Russian territory. Iran then sent its trainers to Crimea to address the malfunctions, the report said.

The Iranians are not on the front line and are teaching the Russians how to deploy the drones. It’s unclear whether the Iranians are operating the drones themselves, The New York Times reported.

The drones have hit electricity infrastructure and have killed Ukrainian civilians, including a pregnant woman who was in a residential building, the report said.

Firefighters work after a drone hit on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna)

Iran and Russia have denied that Iranian drones are being used against Ukraine.

The UK’s Daily Mirror first reported the Iranian trainers’ involvement in Crimea.

CNN reported Tuesday that hundreds of the drones have been sent to Russia, and a source who had been briefed on US intelligence told the network that dozens of Iranian trainers were sent to assist the Russians.

The drones are the Shahed-136 model aircraft used for air-to-surface attacks. The so-called “kamikaze” drones carry a small warhead and crash into their targets, exploding on impact. They have a range of about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).

Because they are cheap and plentiful, Russia has increasingly used Shaheds over Ukraine. Their use allows Russia to avoid putting sophisticated aircraft and pilots at risk and save its limited stock of expensive long-range precision missiles. Fired from a truck launcher in rapid succession, the drones can fly low and slow, better able to avoid radar detection.

The Iranians have also sent Russia Mohajer-6 drones, which can carry missiles and do surveillance, according to The New York Times.

The US, France and the UK said the Iranian drone shipments violated a UN Security Council resolution barring Iranian arms transfers. A US official said the Western countries will discuss the drone shipments at a UN Security Council meeting, CNN reported.

The US warned Monday it would take action against companies and nations working with Iran’s drone program.

Russia and Iran are both under Western sanctions that block economic activity and weapons trade.

In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 10, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday that Russian strikes had destroyed about 30 percent of his country’s power stations in one week. Russian attacks rocked energy facilities in Kyiv and urban centers across the country, causing blackouts and disrupting water supplies.

On Monday in Kyiv, drones destroyed a residential building in the center and killed five people. The city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said 28 drones made up waves of successive attacks.

It was the second Monday in a row that Russia launched punitive strikes that military observers have said appear to be Moscow’s response to battlefield losses.

The Washington Post, citing US and allied security officials, reported Sunday that Iran planned to provide Russia with additional drones and also “surface-to-surface missiles.”

Iran agreed to sell Moscow Fateh 110 and Zolfaghar short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

Tehran on Tuesday said the claims about its drones in Russian hands were “baseless” and said it was ready for talks with Kyiv.

Illustrative: In this photo released by the Iranian Army on, Aug. 25, 2022, a drone is launched in a military drone drill in Iran. (Iranian Army via AP)

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he had suggested to Zelenksy that Kyiv cut diplomatic ties with Iran. Last month, Kyiv decided to significantly reduce its diplomatic relations with Tehran over alleged arms deliveries to Russia.

The recent strikes against Ukraine have also amplified calls from Ukraine for Israeli defense assistance.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Tuesday that his country plans to submit a formal request to Israel asking for immediate air defense assistance.

Since the early days of the invasion, senior Ukrainian officials have asked Israel to send its missile defense systems, especially the Iron Dome, in public addresses and in private conversations with decision-makers in Jerusalem.

Israel has repeatedly rebuffed Kyiv’s requests for defensive weapons, specifically the missile defense systems that could be used to fend off Russian airstrikes, despite expressing sympathy for the country’s plight and sending humanitarian aid.

In a rare expression of unity between coalition and opposition figures, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday both expressed an unwillingness to alter Israel’s policy of not sending defense equipment to Ukraine.

Israel has sought to preserve its increasingly fraught ties with Russia during the war. Russia controls the airspace over Syria, where Israel acts against Iranian-linked targets, including the Hezbollah terror group. Netanyahu also said Tuesday that Israel fears its weaponry could end up in Iranian hands if it is sent abroad.

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