U.S. Claims Intelligence Shows Russians Shopping For Iranian Military Drones Ahead Of Putin Visit
By RFE/RL July 16, 2022
The White House has released what it says is intelligence showing that Russian officials have recently visited an airfield in Iran to see unmanned, weaponized drones it wants to acquire to use in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has tightened relations with Tehran of late and is scheduled to visit Iran this week to meet with the Iranian and Turkish presidents.
Tehran has recently dismissed suggestions it is ready to provide such weapons-carrying drones to Russia.
White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that the administration has "information that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with several hundred unmanned UAVs," or unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Biden administration said Iranian officials displayed the drones to Russian officials at Kashan Airfield, in central Iran, on June 8 and July 15.
The White House released satellite imagery purporting to show Iranian Shahed-191 and Shahed-129 drones in flight and on show at the airfield with a Russian transport plane nearby.
"This suggests ongoing Russian interest in acquiring Iranian attack-capable UAVs," Sullivan said.
Drones have played an important role in the 4-month-old conflict in Ukraine, which has killed tens of thousands and forced more than 10 million Ukrainians to flee as ground battles and long-distance bombardments by Russian forces continue.
The United States and its NATO allies have provided or earmarked billions in weapons supplies to help Ukraine defend itself since the all-out invasion began in February, following eight years of lower-scale conflict between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists.
Washington has previously accused Tehran of readying for a supply of drones to Russia "on an expedited timeline."
On July 15, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, by phone that reports of Iranian drones bound for Russia are "baseless."
Amir-Abdollahian called the reports politically motivated to coincide with U.S. President Joe Biden's current Middle East tour.
"We oppose any move that could lead to continuation and intensifying conflicts," he said.
Biden is currently on a Middle East tour that includes efforts to shore up regional responses to the perceived threat from Iran and Putin's war on Ukraine.
Biden and other world powers' efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran have largely stalemated, undermined in part by Moscow's insistence on new conditions, exacerbating already antagonistic relations between Tehran and Washington.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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