In July, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Iran was preparing to supply Russia with Iranian-made drones and train its forces on their use.
These included “weapons-capable UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles)” that Moscow would deploy to prosecute its war in Ukraine, Sullivan said.
The following month, U.S. intelligence and other monitors tracked the delivery of Iranian-made Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series drones into Russian hands. According to reports, their presence was soon felt on the Ukrainian battlefield.
But Tehran denies delivering drones to Russia for use in Ukraine. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said:
“The Islamic Republic of Iran considers reports about delivering drones to Russia for use in the Ukraine war ‘baseless’ and does not confirm them.
“Since the beginning of the conflict, we have voiced our principled and clear policy of active neutrality and opposition to war, while stressing the need for the two sides to solve their problems through political means free from violence.”
Tehran’s denial flies in the face of evidence that Russia is deploying Iranian-manufactured drones in Ukraine. Despite Iran’s neutrality claim, state media regularly repeat Russian talking points blaming the West for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In July, the White House said Russian officials had made at least two visits to Iran to view weapons-capable drones.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also visited Iran that month, although Russia claims Putin did not discuss delivery of drones with the Islamic republic’s leaders.
U.S. claims that Iran began supplying Russia with drones corresponded with an uptick in Iranian cargo flights to Russia, as shown by open source flight data.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on August 12 that at least 42 flights linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard had landed in Moscow since April – versus just three during the same period the previous year.
Other reports indicated that Iran was set to deliver hundreds of drones to Russia. And Iranian-made drones started turning up in Ukrainian airspace.
On September 13, Ukraine’s military claimed for the first time to have shot down an Iranian-supplied drone, identified as a Shahed-136 UAV.
The Shahed-136 is called a “kamikaze drone” because it explodes on impact.
A photo of the downed drone was provided to The Associated Press and other media by the Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate and spread on social media.
Arms researchers found a credible match between the remnants of that drone and a Shahed-136 UAV.
On September 23, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine had shot down eight Iranian-made drones.
Ukraine’s Air Force also said it shot down six Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones over the eastern and southern fronts on September 23.
On September 22, the Pentagon said Russia was using Iranian-made drones in Ukraine, calling Ukraine’s claims it had shot down some of them “credible.”
More photographic and video evidence has circulated on the internet.
On September 23, Ukraine’s Air Force said fighters of the Southern Air Command had “for the first time shot” down a Mohajer-6, "designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, recognition and fire strikes."
The Ukrainian Air Force said it shot down five out of seven Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones on the night of October 1-2.
Photos showing the wreckage of one of those drones was circulated on social media.
On October 3, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry responded to Iran’s denial that it was supplying drones to Russia by releasing a photo of an intact Mohajer-6.
The ministry said the Iranian drone was deployed to “coordinate an attack on [the Black Sea port of] Odesa a few days ago.”
That drone was reportedly captured on September 23.
In response to Iran’s drones, Ukraine downgraded relations with Tehran.
Iran said it “regretted” the diplomatic move, asking Kyiv to "refrain from being influenced by third parties who seek to destroy relations between the two countries.”
Iran’s drones, which are believed not to have been used outside of the Middle East before now, have helped Russia shore up its depleted arsenal, The New York Times reported.
Repainted in Russian colors and rebranded as Geranium 2, the drones have inflicted serious damage on Ukrainian forces, according to The Wall Street Journal.
A Ukrainian activist and three soldiers told Politico that the Iranian drones pose a major threat to both fighters and civilians.
But there is evidence the drones have “experienced numerous failures on the battleground” in Ukraine, according to Sasha Baker, U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.
On September 8, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned four Iranian companies for their involvement in supplying Russia with drones for Ukraine.