Biden administration officials said on Thursday that the United States has evidence that Iran is sending troops to Ukraine to help Russia launch drone strikes on targets across the country.
Iran has sent trainers and technical support to enable Russian forces to use Iranian-made drones with “better lethality,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters in a teleconference.
“We assess that Iranian military personnel are on the ground in Crimea and assist Russia in these operations,” Kirby said.
“The systems themselves were failing and apparently not meeting the standards customers expected,” Kirby said. As a result, the Iranians decided to send troops to help the Russians.
When asked how many Iranians are in Crimea and why, Kirby said, “There are no numbers… What we do know is that there are relatively few Iranians.”
Kirby and State Department spokesman Ned Price said Russia has deployed dozens of drones purchased from Iran to Ukraine and used it in attacks, including in the capital, Kyiv, in recent days.
“Russia has bought dozens of these UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) so far. It will likely continue to receive additional submissions in the future,” Price told reporters in a separate briefing.
“The United States has reliable information that Russian officials trained in Iran prior to the presence of Iranian instructors in Crimea,” Price said.
Citing the reduction in Russia’s supply of advanced weapons, Kirby said the administration was concerned that Iran would supply Russia with surface-to-surface missiles, but did not provide details.
“We are also concerned that, in light of Russia’s continued shortage of supplies, Russia may seek to acquire advanced conventional weapons from Iran, such as surface-to-surface missiles, which will almost certainly be used to support the war against Ukraine,” Kirby said. .
The New York Times first reported that Iranian personnel were sent to Ukraine to guide Russian forces in the use of newly acquired Iranian-made drones. The Washington Post recently reported that Iran is planning to supply missiles to Russia.
Even as Russia struggles to fend off counterattacks by Ukrainian forces in the east and south of the country, it launched a wave of drone and rocket attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure and civilian areas last week. Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, was hit by a series of drone attacks on Monday that set apartments on fire.
Price of the State Department said the United States is working to help Ukraine strengthen its air defenses against drones and other air strikes.
The Biden administration earlier this year accused Iran of preparing to send drones to Russia. Iran denies transferring drones to Russia.
When asked how Iran’s support for Russia’s war effort could affect stalled talks between Iran and world powers known as the JCPOA to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, Kirby said the administration is currently focused on Iranians protesting in the streets.
“So we’re not just focusing on that right now,” Kirby said, echoing the recent statements from senior management officials. “Our focus is on making sure we hold the regime accountable for the way they treat peaceful protesters in their country and support those protesters.”
Price said at the State Department that the nuclear deal is “largely academic at the moment” in light of widespread protests in Iran.
Kirby said the US has recently imposed new sanctions on Iran over its drone shipments to Russia, including companies and individuals allegedly involved in the effort, and will seek additional measures to hold Tehran accountable.
Iran’s UN mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Abigail Williams and Ghael Fobs contributing.