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Iran’s Suspect Denial of Drone Production Deal with Russia

A police officer inspects parts of an unmanned aerial vehicle, what Ukrainian authorities consider to be an Iranian-made suicide drone, or Shahed-136, at the site of a Russian strike on fuel storage facilities in Kharkiv, Ukraine, October 6, 2022.
Nour News

Nour News

News agency affiliated with Iran’s Supreme National Security

“Iran does not participate in any independent or joint project for production of drones in Russia. Reports by Western media in this regard are sheer lies.”

Likely False

On February 6, Iran’s Nour News, a news agency affiliated with the country’s Supreme National Security Council, denied that Tehran and Moscow had reached a deal to produce military drones jointly in Russia:

“Iran does not participate in any independent or joint project for production of drones in Russia. Reports by Western media in this regard are sheer lies.”

That is likely false.

The statement came in response to an article published in The Wall Street Journal on February 5 about the deepening Russia-Iran military alliance.

The newspaper reported that Iran and Russia are planning to build a new factory in Russia’s Tatarstan republic that will likely be capable of producing at least 6,000 Iran-designed drones in the coming years.

Citing unnamed U.S. officials, the Journal reported that Iranian military leaders visited the site of the new factory, located near the city of Yelabuga some 200 kilometers east of Tatarstan’s capital Kazan, on January 5:

“The officials said the Iranian delegation was led by Brig. Gen. Abdollah Mehrabi, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization, and Ghassem Damavandian, the chief executive of Iran’s Quds Aviation Industry, a key defense manufacturer that the U.S. says is central to developing and building the country’s drones.”

The Washington Post reported that Russia and Iran finalized the drone-production deal during a meeting in Iran last November. Citing Western and U.S. officials who saw intelligence reports on the agreement, the newspaper said the mutually beneficial deal “is proceeding quickly from decision-making to implementation.”

These new attack drones are believed to possess range and speed capabilities superior to the cheap, lightweight Shahed 131/136 drones. Iran has already delivered an estimated 2,000 of the inferior “kamikaze” drones to Russia.

Both Russia and Iran have denied that Tehran has provided Moscow with weapons used against Ukraine. However, Ukraine has presented abundant evidence to the contrary, including the wreckage of hundreds of Iranian-manufactured Shahed 131/136s it shot down. Russia has deployed hundreds of the kamikaze drones, rebranding them under the name Geran-2. But its efforts to hide the drones’ Iranian origin have failed.

On February 3, the U.S. imposed sanctions against eight Iranians in charge of the drone manufacturer Paravar Pars. The U.S. said in a statement:

"Russia is using Iran-produced UAVs in attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. The Iranian regime’s military support for Russia helps fuel Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine and has also resulted in violations of UN Security Council resolution 2231, which prohibits Iran’s provision of military UAVs to Russia without advance, case-by-case approval of the UN Security Council."

The Russia-Iran drone deal may also include Moscow providing Tehran with 24 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, according to an intelligence dossier that Israel’s government shared with its allies last October, The Times of Israel reported in November.

While both Iran and Russia are reportedly aiming to produce improved attack drones, their options may be limited by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which prohibits countries from transferring or receiving Iranian drones (that have a range of more than 300 kilometers and can carry more than 500 kilograms of load or explosives) without advance Security Council approval. The Security Council has not given any such approval.