After weeks of bombing Ukrainian cities Iranian-made dronesMoscow has quietly reached an agreement with Tehran to begin manufacturing hundreds of drones on Russian soil, according to new intelligence seen by US and other Western security agencies.
Russian and Iranian officials finalized the deal during a meeting in Iran in early November, and the two countries are moving quickly to transfer key designs and components that could allow production to begin within months, three officials familiar with the matter said in interviews with The Washington Post.
The officials said the deal, if fully realized, would mark a further deepening of the Russian-Iranian alliance that has already provided crucial support for Moscow’s faltering military campaign in Ukraine.
And by getting its own assembly line off the ground, Russia could dramatically increase its stockpile of the relatively inexpensive and highly destructive weapon systems that in recent weeks have changed the character of the war in Ukraine.
Intelligence officials said Russia has deployed more than 400 Iranian-made attack drones against Ukraine since August, with many of the aircraft being used in strikes against civilian infrastructure targets such as power plants.
Iranian marches in Ukraine put the regime in the crosshairs of sanctions
After forcing Moscow to cede Ukrainian lands its forces had captured early in the war, Moscow has turned to a strategy of relentless air strikes on Ukrainian cities, using a combination of cruise missiles and drones to cut off electricity and running water for millions of residents.
For Moscow, the new agreement could fill its desperate need for precision-guided munitions, which are in short supply after nine months of fighting.
Officials believe the agreement also provides significant economic and political benefits for Iran.
And while Tehran has sought to portray itself as neutral in the Ukraine conflict, the appearance of Iranian-made drones over Ukrainian cities has sparked threats of new economic sanctions from Europe. The officials said Iran’s leaders believe they can avoid new sanctions if the drones are assembled in Russia.
According to the report, details of the Iran-Russia deal were finalized in a November meeting, which involved a team of Russian defense industry negotiators who traveled to Tehran, according to security officials from two countries who monitored the events.
A separate delegation headed by Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev traveled to Tehran on November 9 to discuss Western economic sanctions, according to Russian and Iranian media.
One of the officials familiar with the secret agreement described it as a determined attempt by the two countries to facilitate the production of Iranian-designed drones inside Russia. “The agreement is moving quickly from decision-making to implementation,” the official said.
Several NATO countries, including the United States, have seen the intelligence, but government officials have declined to discuss details.
The White House declined to comment on Russian-Iranian cooperation. But a spokeswoman for the US National Security Council, Adrienne Watson, said in a statement to the newspaper: “Iran and Russia can lie to the world, but they cannot hide the facts: Tehran helps kill Ukrainian civilians by providing weapons and assisting Russia in its military operations. It is another sign.” over the isolation of both Iran and Russia.
She added, “The United States – with its allies and partners – seeks by all means to expose, deter, and confront Iran’s provision of these munitions and Russia’s use of them against the Ukrainian people. We will continue to provide Ukraine with the critical security assistance it needs to defend itself, including air defense systems.”
The officials said it was not clear what kind of help Tehran would ask Moscow in return, other than the money and benefits that come from a strong alliance with Iran’s powerful northern neighbor.
In the past, Russia has provided Iran with a surveillance satellite to allow it to spy on its neighbors, as well as key components of the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
Western media have reported that Iran may be seeking additional nuclear assistance in exchange for its assistance in the Russian military campaign.
“It is clear that the Russians are offering diplomatic and economic assistance,” said one of the officials. “They are also aware of the international pressure on Iran, and they want to help ease that.”
Economic sanctions on Iran and Russia have severely restricted the purchase of the two countries’ sensitive technology, including electronic guidance systems.
Independent analysis of Iranian drones recovered from the battlefield in Ukraine revealed the extent of Iran’s continued reliance on foreign countries for key components.
A report released in October, based on an examination of three types of Iranian-made drones, identified engine and electronics parts made by American, German and Chinese companies, according to the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based nonprofit.
It is not clear exactly how Iran acquired the western parts, the report said, but Tehran has a long history of circumventing international sanctions.
The report stated that the expiration of next year’s ban imposed by the United Nations on Iranian ballistic missile sales may give Tehran an additional boost as an arms dealer, which means that it “will be free to continue selling its weapons to Russia and others.”