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Russia-Ukraine war: Iran acknowledges drone sales to Moscow before conflict

Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian denies providing unmanned combat aircrafts since the invasion began in February
A drone flies over Kyiv during an attack on 17 October 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine (AFP)
A drone flies over Kyiv as part of an attack on 17 October 2022 during the Russian invasion of Ukraine (AFP)

Iran’s foreign minister said on Saturday that his country supplied drones to Russia before the war with Ukraine, in the first such public acknowledgment.

Hossein Amirabdollahian denied that Tehran is continuing to provide Moscow with drones and said a "small number" of unmanned combat aircraft were sold months before the invasion began on 24 February.

"This fuss made by some western countries that Iran has provided missiles and drones to Russia to help the war in Ukraine - the missile part is completely wrong," Amirabdollahian said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

"The drone part is true and we provided Russia with a small number of drones months before the Ukraine war," he added.

Iranian-made drones have been increasingly deployed by Russian forces in Ukraine in recent weeks, destroying power plants and civilian and military infrastructure, according to Kyiv. 

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Tehran and Moscow have both previously denied the reports. 

However, Iranian officials have sent mixed messages with some leaders boasting about the country's drone programme after reports of their use in Ukraine.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last month that in the past people had doubted Iranian technology, calling it fake, but "now they say 'Iranian drones are dangerous. Why do you sell them to so-and-so?'" 

Iran’s foreign minister maintained that Tehran would "not remain indifferent" if it were proven that Russia had used Iranian drones in the war against Ukraine.

The US, UK, and EU have all sanctioned Iranian companies they accuse of facilitating the transfer of drones.

Analysts and western officials say Russia has turned to Iran for military supplies as it faces severe shortages in its own defence industry.

Reports suggest that Russia has bought several hundred Mohajer-6 and Shahed-136 combat drones, with another 1,000 ordered. 

According to Ukraine's defence ministry, at least 300 Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones have been used to destroy much of the country's network of power stations last month. 

Iranian military instructors, believed to be affiliated with the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, were reportedly present on the ground in Ukraine training Russian troops on how to use the Shahed-136 drone in October. 

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