On October 18, the Kremlin denied that Russia is using any Iran-made weaponry in Ukraine. Questioned by reporters, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, stated:
“No, we do not have such information. Russian equipment is being used, you know about it, with Russian designations.”
That is false.
Photographic and other forensic evidence, along with intelligence and media reports, confirm that since August Russia has deployed Iran-made Shahed and Mojaher drones.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported a Russian attack using Iranian Shahed-136s on September 13 in the city of Kupiansk, Kharkiv province. Russia tried to disguise the Iranian drones with the name M412 Geran-2, the ministry said.
Ukraine recovered the wreckage of the drones and shared the photographic evidence of Iranian manufacture with news media.
“Independent experts who examined photographs of recent drone wreckage from the Kharkiv region say that it appears to be Shahed-136, the latest evolution of Tehran’s delta-wing design,” The Wall Street Journal reported September 17.
Ukrainian forces have destroyed 223 Iran-made Shahed-136 drones Russia deployed over Ukrainian towns and cities since September, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported on October 19.
The National Resistance Center under Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces reported on October 18 that Iran sent at least 20 instructors into Ukraine to train and help Russian troops operate Iranian drones.
“In particular, the instructors are deployed at the Chauda training ground, the Kirovskyi military airfield, and near Cape Tarkhankut [Crimea],” the center said.
According to Ukrainian intelligence, Russia purchased at least 2,500 drones from Iran. “[The] Shahed-136 has become a means for the Russian Federation to launch constant methodical attacks on the cities of Ukraine,” the Defense Ministry said in an October 19 report.
The Ukrainian reports are corroborated by others. On October 12, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported that Russia had been using “Iranian manufactured” drones in Ukraine “since at least August 2022.”
Iran is “expanding its role as Russia’s military supplier,” now shipping weaponry that includes “two types of Iranian surface-to-surface missiles” and more drones, the newspaper reported. Iranian envoys finalized the deal in Moscow on September 18, the intelligence officials told the Post.
Iran’s Shahed-136 drones are packed with explosives and preprogrammed to loiter overhead until they nosedive into a target. They are 11.5 feet long, eight feet wide, weigh 440 pounds, have a 50-horsepower engine, and a maximum range of 1,500 miles. They are not equipped with cameras, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said.
In an October 17 report, PBS explained how Russia benefits from using Iranian drones as a budget option:
“At a mere $20,000 apiece, the Shahed is only a tiny fraction of the cost of a more conventional, full-size missile. For example, Russia’s Kalibr cruise missiles that have seen widespread use in the nearly eight months of war cost the Russian military about $1 million each.
“At such a low cost, the Shahed can be deployed in massive numbers to saturate a target, whether it’s a fuel depot or infrastructure and utilities like power or water stations.”
And Shahed-136 drones can be difficult to intercept. Russia has used Iranian drones against civilian areas and infrastructure, National Public Radio quoted Ukrainian and foreign officials as saying. On October 17, a Russian drone attack in Kyiv killed at least four people.
That same day, Russia used Iranian drones and Russian missiles to attack civilian infrastructure in Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy, killing three and wounding nine. Thousands were left without electrical power, CNN reported.
The Guardian newspaper reported on October 19 that it costs Ukraine more to shoot down the Iranian drones than it does for Russia to deploy them.
“With the price of the Iranian-made Shahed-136s standing at €20,000 to €50,000 for each vehicle, the total cost to Russia of the failed drone attacks unleashed on Ukraine in recent weeks is estimated by military analysts at the NGO Molfar to be between $11.66m (£10.36m) and $17.9m (£15.9m) …"
“The estimated cost to Ukraine stands at more than $28.14m (£25m), according to the analysis, which is based on open sources. The data includes drones launched between 13 September and 17 October.”
In a TV address on October 18, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia has targeted Ukraine’s energy system, attacking at least 10 regions in recent days.
“We should remember that the very fact of Russia's appeal to Iran for such assistance is the Kremlin's recognition of its military and political bankruptcy. For decades, they've been spending billions of dollars on their military-industrial complex, and in the end, they went to bow to Tehran to get rather simple drones and missiles," Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy said Russia’s attacks over a week had "destroyed" 30% of Ukraine's power stations and caused "massive blackouts" across the country.
For its part, Iran denies selling weapons to Russia and claims neutrality in the conflict.
However, on October 18, Reuters cited “two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats” who confirmed their country’s weapons supply to Russia.
“A deal was agreed on Oct. 6 when Iran's First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, two senior officials from Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards, and an official from the Supreme National Security Council visited Moscow,” Reuters reported.
According to Reuters, Iran’s latest deal with Russia also includes Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar missiles, which are “short-range surface to surface ballistic missiles capable of striking targets at distances of between 300 km and 700 km (186 and 435 miles).”
The United States, which with European allies has spent billions supplying Ukraine with arms, has pledged to make it harder for Iran to send weapons to Russia.
"We will continue to take practical, aggressive steps to make these weapons sales harder, including sanctions, export control actions against any entities involved," State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said on October 18, Reuters reported.