On October 20, the White House charged that Iranians had deployed in Crimea to help Russian forces launch dozens of Iran’s kamikaze drones on Ukraine. Tehran’s decision to intervene in Russia’s war reflected the deepening strategic alliance with Moscow. “Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground and through the provision of weapons that are … killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” John Kirby, the National Security Council, told reporters. He expressed concern that Russia sought more Iranian weaponry, including surface-to-surface missiles. At the United Nations, Iranian Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani denied the allegation. “Iran categorically rejects unfounded and unsubstantiated claims that Iran has transferred UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for use in the conflict in Ukraine.”
Iran began selling Russia two types of drones—the Shahed-136 and the Mohajer-6. The Shahed-136, known as a suicide drone because it explodes on impact, has an estimated range of up to 2,500 kilometers (or 1,550 miles). The larger Mohajer-6, which has a shorter range of 200 kilometers (or 125 miles), can return to base after firing small missiles or dropping guided bombs. Both gave Russia, which was already suffering from weapon shortages, a new means of attack.
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Major international players—including the United States, Britain, France and Ukraine—jointly expressed “grave concerns” at a special session on Iran’s drones at the U.N. Security Council, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on October 19. Behind closed doors, the Security Council was briefed by a panel of experts. Britain, France and Germany called on the world body to launch an investigation into whether Iran was in violation of Security Council Resolution 2231, which forbade the transfer of certain types of Iranian weaponry, including drones with a range over 300 kilometers (or 186 miles).
The White House began warning about the transfer of Iranian drones to Russia in July. The first shipment reportedly departed Iran on Russia cargo planes on August 19. The Iranian drones were first fired on Ukrainian targets in late August, but the Pentagon reported that the drones experienced early failures on the battleground. In mid-October, Kirby vowed to “pursue all means to expose, deter, and confront Iran’s provision of these munitions against the Ukrainian people.” Iran and Russia were already heavily sanctioned by the United States. The following are reactions from Western countries to Iran's drone exports and Tehran's response.
National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby on Oct. 20, 2022: “So today we can confirm that Russian military personnel that are based in Crimea have been piloting Iranian UAVs, using them to conduct strikes across Ukraine, including strikes against Kyiv in just recent days.
“We assess that Iranian military personnel were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia in these operations. Russia has received dozens of UAVs so far and will likely continue to receive additional shipments in the future.
“Furthermore, in light of Russia’s ongoing supply shortages, we are concerned that Russia may also seek to acquire advanced conventional weapons from Iran, such as surface-to-surface missiles that will almost certainly be used to support the war against Ukraine.
“There’s extensive proof of their use by Russia against both military and civilian targets there. Yet both Iran and Russia continue to lie about it, denying that Iran is providing weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine. Iran and Russia, (inaudible), they can lie to the world, but they certainly can’t hide the facts.
“And the fact is this: Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground and through the provision of weapons that are impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine — in fact, that are killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.
“United States is going to pursue all means to expose, deter, and confront Iran’s provision of these munitions against the Ukrainian people. We’re going to continue to vigorously enforce all U.S. sanctions on both the Russian and Iranian arms trade. We’re going to make it harder for Iran to sell these weapons to Russia. We’re going to help the Ukrainians have what they need to defend themselves against these threats. And we’re going to continue to stand with our partners throughout the Middle East region against the Iranian threat.
“We’re also working with allies and partners, including at the United Nations, to address Iran’s dangerous proliferation of weapons to Russia. Yesterday, in New York, we began that process with Ukraine, the UK, and France to hold Iran accountable for its provision of UAVs to Russia. This closed meeting in the U.N. Security Council kicked off a process under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 — I know you’re all familiar with that with respect to Iran — and it was led by a panel of experts.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken in remarks on Oct. 21, 2022: “In recent days, we’ve witnessed Moscow’s widespread strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine – many carried out using drones supplied by Iran. These strikes have a clear goal: to make the Ukrainian people suffer. And the damage they’re inflicting will make it harder for Ukrainians to heat their homes, find safe water to drink, access the electricity that they need to run everything from stores to hospitals to public transportation.”
Secretary Blinken in a statement on Sept. 8, 2022: “The United States is designating a person involved in the shipment of Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Russia for its war against Ukraine, as well as four other persons involved in Iranian UAV activities, including the production of Shahed-series UAVs and related components for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“The Russian military is suffering from major supply shortages in Ukraine, in part because of sanctions and export controls, forcing Russia to turn to unreliable countries like Iran for supplies and equipment. The United States will hold those who support Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine to account, including by continuing to sanction Iranian or other entities that provide lethal aid to Russia.
“We will also use all available tools, including sanctions, to prevent, deter, and dismantle the procurement networks that supply UAV-related material and technology to Iran, as well as the Iranian entities that engage in such proliferation. We also warn any third country that seeks to purchase these drones from Iran that doing so implicates multiple U.S. sanction authorities.”
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price in a press statement on Oct. 19, 2022: “Today, the United States joined the United Kingdom and France in raising the issue of Iran’s transfer of UAVs to Russia at a meeting of the UN Security Council, where Council members received expert briefings from the UN Secretariat on reports of the transfer of these dangerous weapons. We expressed our grave concerns about Russia’s acquisition of these UAVs from Iran in violation of UN Security Council resolution 2231.
“The United States began warning in July that Iran was planning to transfer UAVs to Russia for use in Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, and we now have abundant evidence that these UAVs are being used to strike Ukrainian civilians and critical civilian infrastructure. As Iran continues to lie and deny providing weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, we are committed to working with allies and partners to prevent the transfer of dangerous weaponry to Russia. We will not hesitate to use our sanctions and other appropriate tools on all involved in these transfers. We will also continue to surge unprecedented security assistance to Ukraine, including air defense capabilities, so that Ukraine can defend itself from these weapons.”
State Department Spokesperson Price in remarks on Oct. 20, 2022: “We do have credible information that Russian officials, prior to the presence of Iranian trainers in Crimea, received training in Iran.
“And the other, I think, notable element here is that, yes, these drones pose a risk to Ukraine, they pose a deadly threat to Ukraine, but Iran’s proliferation of UAV technology – the threat that it poses – goes well beyond Ukraine. In announcing the sanctions last October, we made the point publicly that the Quds Force has used and proliferated UAVs for use by Iran supported groups, including Hizballah, Hamas, Kita’ib Hizballah, the Houthis, and to Ethiopia, where our concerns of course are prevalent. So whether it’s through U.S. sanctions, whether it is through international sanctions, whether it’s through interdiction, or through other means, we are going to use every appropriate tool we have to counter the threat by Iranian UAVs.”
Background briefing with a senior military official on Oct. 17, 2022: “So, first, Russian forces continue to conduct indiscriminate strikes across Ukraine, employing various missiles and Iranian attack drones. We assess that Russia has deliberately struck civilian infrastructure and nonmilitary targets, with the purpose of needlessly harming civilians and attempting to instill terror among the Ukrainian population elsewhere on the battlefield, starting in the north and the Kharkiv region.”
“So, we assess that the Iranians have provided them [Russians] with hundreds [of drones]. That's about as specific as I can get at this point.”
Press release on Oct. 20, 2022: “The Council today added three Iranian individuals and one Iranian entity to the list of those subject to restrictive measures for undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. This is in view of their role in the development and delivery of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) used by Russia in its war against Ukraine.
“Today’s decision is a signal of the EU’s resolve to respond swiftly and decisively to Iran’s actions supporting Russian aggression against Ukraine. The EU condemns the delivery of Iranian drones to Russia and their deadly deployment in the war of aggression against Ukraine. The EU will continue to respond to all actions supporting Russian aggression.
“Those designated are subject to an asset freeze and EU citizens and companies are forbidden from making funds available to them. Natural persons are additionally subject to a travel ban, which prevents them from entering or transiting through EU territories.
“The Council has also signalled its intention to impose restrictive measures against a further two individuals and two entities on the same grounds.”
Foreign policy chief Josep Borell in remarks on Oct. 17, 2022: “We are following very closely the use of these drones, we are gathering evidence, and we will be ready to react with the tools at our disposal.”
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in a statement on Oct. 20, 2022: “Iran’s support for Putin’s brutal and illegal war against Ukraine is deplorable. Today we are sanctioning those who have supplied the drones used by Russia to target Ukrainian civilians. This is clear evidence of Iran’s destabilising role in global security.”
“These cowardly drone strikes are an act of desperation. By enabling these strikes, these individuals and a manufacturer have caused the people of Ukraine untold suffering. We will ensure that they are held to account for their actions.”
Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna in remarks on Oct. 21, 2022: “Given the support provided by Iran to the criminal action of Russia in Ukraine by way of kamikaze UAVs that were used again only a few days ago, we have at a ministerial level adopted some additional sanctions – and they are now enforced – sanctions against those responsible for these armament programs.
“And let me say that these UAVs that were used once again this week – against the civilian – civil infrastructures and civilians in Ukraine – this is not only in breach of the commitments by Iran in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution, but it is also a war crime because they’re targeting civilians. So this is the reason why we took sanctions.”
Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis tweeted on Oct. 18, 2022: “If Iran walks like a duck, talks like a duck and admits to supplying drones to the biggest duck in the world then I think we have enough evidence to say that Iran is a duck. Let's sanction the duck out of them.”
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in remarks on Oct. 24, 2022: “Iran didn’t supply Russia with any weapons for the war with Ukraine.”
"I stressed to Mr. (Josep) Borrell that if... it becomes clear to us that Russia has used Iranian drones in the war against Ukraine, we will definitely not be indifferent about this issue.”
In a phone call with E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Oct. 14, 2022: “We have defense cooperation with Russia, but our policy regarding the war in Ukraine is not sending weapons to the conflicting parties, stopping the war and ending the displacement of people.”
U.N. Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani to reporters on Oct. 19, 2022: “Iran categorically rejects unfounded and unsubstantiated claims that Iran has transferred UAVs for use in the conflict in Ukraine.
“It is really disappointing that, to pursue their political agenda, these States are trying to launch a disinformation campaign against Iran and make misleading interpretations of Security Council Resolution 2231 in order to wrongly establish a link between their baseless allegations against Iran with this Resolution.
“Iran emphasizes that the issues surrounding the ongoing conflict in Ukraine are completely irrelevant to Resolution 2231 both in substance and format, and any activity in this regard falls outside the scope of the Resolution and the Secretariat's mandate.
“Moreover, Iran is of the firm belief that none of its arms exports, including UAVs, to any country falls within the provision of Paragraph 4 of Annex B to resolution 2231.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue its constructive engagement to help the peaceful resolution of conflict in Ukraine.”
Non-paper issued on Oct. 19, 2022: “Iran categorically rejects unfounded and unsubstantiated claims that Iran has transferred unmanned aerial vehicles for use in the conflict in Ukraine. Such claims are nothing but a propaganda apparatus launched by certain states to further their political agenda.
“Against this backdrop, it is really disappointing that, to pursue their political agenda, these States are trying to launch a disinformation campaign against Iran and make misleading interpretations of Security Council Resolution 2231 in order to wrongly establish a link between their baseless allegations against Iran with Resolution 2231.
“In this context, without prejudice to the abovementioned position of the Islamic Republic of Iran, we reiterate that paragraph 6 of the UN Security Council President's Note dated 16 January 2016 (S/2016/44) clearly confines the Secretariat's mandate on the implementation of Resolution 2231 to the Council's ‘administrative support.’ Any other task performed by the Secretariat shall be performed ‘upon request from the Security Council.’
“Reiterating its principled position on the conflict in Ukraine, Iran emphasizes that the issues surrounding the ongoing conflict are completely irrelevant to Resolution 2231 both in substance and format, and any activity in this regard falls outside the scope of the Resolution and the Secretariat's mandate.
“Moreover, to add a clarification point to the nonsensical statements made by certain countries in the past few days, Iran is of the firm belief that none of its arms exports, including UAVs, to any country falls within the provision of Paragraph 4 of Annex B to resolution 2231, which clearly defines the scope of the elements mentioned therein to ‘that could contribute to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems.’”