May 17, 2024 | Flash Brief

UK Diplomat Says Iranian Drones Are ‘Russia’s Weapons of Choice’

May 17, 2024 | Flash Brief

UK Diplomat Says Iranian Drones Are ‘Russia’s Weapons of Choice’

Latest Developments

Iranian-manufactured drones have become Russia’s “weapon of choice” in its attacks on Ukraine, the British ambassador to the United Nations said on May 14. Addressing a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine — where Russian troops have made advances in recent days around the northeastern city of Kharkiv — UK envoy Barbara Woodward highlighted Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure targeting “power plants, electricity substations and gas storage facilities” across the country.

On the night of May 8 — a symbolic date as the 79th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany — Russia launched more than 70 drones and missiles against energy facilities in the Poltava, Kropyvnytskyi, Zaporizhzhia, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Vinnytsia regions of Ukraine. “Iranian-made UAVs remain Russia’s weapons of choice in these attacks against civilians and their infrastructure,” Woodward stressed. According to Ukrainian Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk, the May 8 assault involved 21 Iranian-made Shahed 131 and 136 attack drones that were fired from Russia’s Kursk region.  

Expert Analysis

“Ukrainian civilians are experiencing the brutal reality of the Russian-Iranian alliance every day. Iran’s supply of deadly drones to its ally in Moscow is one of the factors propelling the current Russian offensive. In February, the United States announced new sanctions against Iranian entities aiding Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, but these have clearly failed to deter Tehran. Cutting the supply of weaponry from Iran and other states, like North Korea, to the Russians must now become a key objective of U.S. policy in Ukraine.” — Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

“Iranian drones are helping Russia conserve long-range strike assets like cruise and ballistic missiles, giving Putin cheaper options that keep him in the fight. Russia uses these drones against critical infrastructure and civilian targets to break the back of the Ukrainian resistance, while Iran is getting cash, gold, captured Western weapons, weapons deals, political support, and reportedly even support for the regime’s space program, in return.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

Enhanced Security Cooperation Between Russia and Iran

Iran has reliably backed Russia since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine while boosting support for its proxies in the Middle East, among them Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In addition to obtaining hundreds of drones, Moscow has already received “around 400 missiles” from Iran, including “many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar,” according to a February 21 Reuters report. Additionally, an August 2023 investigation by The Washington Post revealed a three-stage plan by a state-owned Russian company to domestically produce Iran’s Shahed 136 suicide drones — which Russia renamed Geran-2 — with Iranian assistance. The factory plans to produce 6,000 drones by September 2025.

At the end of April, Russia and Iran agreed on further expansion of their military and technical cooperation. The meeting between then Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu — since ousted by President Vladimir Putin — and his Iranian counterpart, Gharaei Ashtiani, followed an April 17 revelation of secret Russian government documents envisioning greater coordination with Iran, China, and North Korea to reshape the U.S.-led world order.

Russia also defended Iran’s direct attack on Israel on April 13-14. The Iranian barrage of over 300 missiles and drones targeting Israel “did not happen in a vacuum,” said Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzia, in a statement before the UN Security Council. Rather, they were “a response to Israel’s blatant attack on Damascus” on April 1, during which a general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was killed in a strike in the Syrian capital.

Russia and Iran Agree to Deepen Security Ties,” FDD Flash Brief

Russia Defends Iranian Attack on Israel,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S. Sanctions Iranian Entities for Helping Russia Build Drones,” FDD Flash Brief


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