Iran Will Help Russia Set Up ‘Drone Factory’ Aimed at Bombing Ukraine as West Seeks To Disrupt Weapons Trade

Military ties between Tehran and Moscow deepen,Yanks say, as a new report indicates China is shipping drone components to Iranian manufacturers.

Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, file
An undated photograph shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupiansk, Ukraine. Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, file

Iran will help the Kremlin set up a drone factory inside Russia, presenting another challenge to America as it seeks to disrupt the weapons trade between the two countries and support the Ukrainian war effort. 

That is the latest from President Biden’s National Security Council, which released on Friday intelligence indicating that Iran is providing Russia with material to set up the drone manufacturing facility in Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone, several hundred miles east of Moscow.

Russia and Iran, both American  adversaries under Western sanctions, have increasingly deepened their cooperation since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, according to intelligence reports released by the White House. 

Iran has shipped hundreds of attack drones to Russia that have been used to strike Ukrainian infrastructure, the State Department said in May.

In a boon for the Kremlin’s military industry, the new project will allow Russia to produce its own domestic drones. The factory could be operational by early next year, the National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby said. The White House released satellite images from April showing the location where the factory will likely be built.

“This is a full-scale defense partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbors, and to the international community,” Mr. Kirby said in a statement to the press.

The factory is being set up as the grueling war strains the global defense industry, and both sides deplete their military stockpiles. The White House said last month that Russia was seeking to buy more drones from Iran after using up most of the 400 UAVs it had already acquired. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said last month that the country’s air defenses down most of the Iranian drones but that some of the attacks get through.

The one-way attack drones, also known as loitering munitions, are from Iran’s Shahed line and are loaded with explosives that detonate when the weapons plunge into their targets, according to the Associated Press.

America and its allies sounded the alarm about Iran’s drone shipments to Russia in October of last year, and America said Iran has transferred the weapons since at least August 2022. Iran’s foreign ministry has denied shipping drones to Russia since the start of the war. 

Western powers have struggled to disrupt the weapons shipments to Russia and have levied sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities involved in the supply. America has repeatedly issued reports exposing the cooperation between Tehran and Moscow, but the military partnership has continued apace.

Iran currently ships weapons to Russian territory via the Caspian Sea, the White House said on Friday. The weapons are ferried to the Russian city of Makhachkala from Amirabad, in Iran, on ships that often turn off their tracking equipment to hide their movements. Once the drones reach Russian shores, they are transported overland to bases near Ukraine’s border. America is unable to halt the maritime traffic through the landlocked body of water. 

Iran also receives weapons from Russia, including missiles, electronics, and air defense systems, and is seeking further military support, including aircraft, Mr. Kirby said.

America released an advisory on Friday to inform businesses and other governments about the “increasing threat” of Iran’s drone production and provide guidance about restrictions on trade meant to hamper the effort.

The American mission to the United Nations said in a Friday statement that the weapon transfers violate UN Security Council resolutions.

Iranian drones that have been recovered in Ukraine indicate that they are produced using foreign components that Iran cannot manufacture domestically, the Department of State said on Friday. The items supplied by third countries include electronics, guidance systems, and engine parts.

Some of those components are flowing to Iran from China, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing researchers who had examined a drone recovered in Ukraine this spring.

That Iranian drone included a voltage converter produced in China earlier in the year, showing that the components are still being shipped to Iran, and highlighting the speed at which Iran can produce the weapons and transport them to Russia. 

The drones can be manufactured in Iran with newly-produced Chinese parts and deployed against Ukraine in a matter of months, the Wall Street Journal report said.

Kyiv’s long-expected counteroffensive appeared to take shape this week, as Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said Ukrainian forces had retaken territory on Monday. 

The catastrophic breach of the Kakhovka dam last week has complicated the push by flooding swathes of the country and causing widespread damage.


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