(CNSNews.com) – Iranian personnel are on the ground in Ukraine, helping Russian forces use Iranian-supplied combat drones to attack civilian and military targets, the U.S. government alleged on Thursday, ratcheting up accusations of collusion in the war that both Moscow and Tehran deny.
“We can confirm that Russia’s military personnel that are based in Crimea have been piloting Iranian UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], using them to conduct strikes across Ukraine, including strikes against Kyiv in just recent days,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters in a teleconference briefing.
“We assess that Iranian military personnel were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia in these operations.”
Kirby said that despite “extensive proof” of the use by Russian forces of Iranian drones in Ukraine, “both Iran and Russia continue to lie about it.”
The U.S. government said last July that Iran was preparing to provide Russia with UAVs, including combat drones, for use in its invasion of Ukraine. The Pentagon later confirmed that Russia was now using the drones in the conflict.
Laden with explosives, the “kamikaze” drones have been used in an escalated Russian campaign – involving both drones and missiles – targeting infrastructure including energy facilities in recent weeks. Ukraine has reported dozens of civilian casualties in the strikes.
After the U.N. Security Council held a closed meeting on Wednesday to discuss the allegations, Russian diplomat Dmitry Polyanskiy reiterated the Kremlin’s denials. But he also warned that if the United Nations dispatched monitors to examine downed drones in Ukraine – as Kyiv has suggested – then Russia would “reassess our collaboration” with the U.N. secretariat.
State Department spokesman Ned Price on Thursday described Polyanskiy’s remarks as “apparent pressure tactics” directed at the U.N. secretariat, and said “the defensiveness of that posture” was noteworthy.
Price said it was important that the U.N. and every responsible U.N. member-state stand by relevant resolutions.
The Kremlin’s denials have been echoed by officials in Iran, although the regime appears to be torn between denying the claims and bragging about its domestically-manufactured weaponry.
“Iran has reached such a high level of expertise in the defense industry that major world powers are willing to acquire its achievements,” Iran’s army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri said in August.
The same month, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami said foreign buyers of Iranian drones include “a number of the world’s top ranking powers.” He also said Iran was training them in the use of the equipment.
On Wednesday, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei commented on the allegations, without confirming or denying them.
“A few years ago, when photographs of our advanced missile and drones were released, some said that they were photo-shopped,” he said in a speech. “But now they’re saying: ‘Iranian drones are very dangerous, why are you selling it to so and so? Why are you giving it to so and so?’”
Will the UN send experts to examine the drones?
The British government on Wednesday announced new sanctions against Iranian entities and officials, including Baqeri, over the provision of drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine.
It said the actions of both Iran and Russia violated U.N. Security Council resolution 2231, “which provides that the transfer from, or to, Iran of specified items require prior approval from the Security Council.”
Resolution 2231 is the 2015 measure that enshrined the Iran nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama-Biden administration.
In a letter this week to U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres, Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador made the same charge about the violation of resolution 2231, and invited him to send U.N. experts to inspect downed drones to determine their origin.
At a briefing Thursday, Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric responded cautiously to questions on the issue, repeatedly referring reporters to a 2016 U.N. document relating to how resolution 2231 would be implemented.
Among other things, that document said the U.N. secretariat would perform various tasks to support implementation of the resolution, “upon request from the Security Council.”
By pointing to it, Dujarric appeared to be implying that the secretariat will only send experts to inspect downed drones in Ukraine if the Security Council makes an official request for it to do so. When asked if that was the point he was suggesting, however, the U.N. spokesman would no answer directly.
U.N. officials have examined remains of drones used in similar circumstances before.
In 2020, a U.N. panel of experts examined the remains of drones used by the Houthi militia in Yemen to attack Saudi oil infrastructure the previous year. They reported having found a gyroscope similar to one recovered from an Iranian-made drone obtained by the U.S. military after crash-landing in Afghanistan.
(Iran has been providing drones to proxies including the Houthis for years, as noted by the U.S. Treasury Department when announcing sanctions on Iran’s UAV program a year ago.)
Asked on Thursday whether the Security Council had on that occasion in 2020 requested the sending of the team of experts to examine the drones used by the Houthis, Dujarric again declined to answer directly.
“The historical facts are the historical facts,” he said. “You can look at the previous biannual reports. But at this point, I’m just not going to say anything more.”