The United Kingdom defense ministry said Wednesday that Russia had used hundreds of Iranian-made drones in Ukraine but none since around November 17.

The Ministry of Defence in London tweeted that Russia had “likely conceived of the UAV [unmanned aerial vehicles] campaign to make up for its severe shortage of cruise missiles.” Reports of the Russian forces using Iranian drones, mainly Shaheed-136, surfaced in September, but were until November denied by Tehran.

Although the use of Iranian-made drones had met with “limited success” with most of those launched neutralized, the British ministry said Moscow would “probably seek resupply” as “Russia can probably procure UAVs from overseas more rapidly than it can manufacture new cruise missiles domestically.” The drones had been both one-way or ‘kamikaze’ and reusable UAVs, the ministry said.

Some former Iranian military sources were quoted elsewhere as saying that the country can produce around 20 drones a month, which is well short of Russian’s needs.

Both sides in the Ukraine war have deployed drones, with Ukraine utilizing Turkish-made Bayraktars along with US-supplied Switchblade drones. The Russian-backed governor of Crimea province said Tuesday that five attacks, including one targeting the Balaklava power station and three on Russian naval ships, had been repelled.

The British Ministry of Defence in its tweets Wednesday said Moscow had used Iranian-made drones “largely…against tactical military targets and the Ukrainian electricity grid.” France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States have condemned Russia’s deployment of Iranian drones as an alleged violation of arms-trade provisions in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The aftermath of a drone hit on buildings in Kyiv on October 17, 2022

Iran ‘Sticking to its positions’

Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Tuesday that Tehran had “sold very few Iranian drones in the framework of defense cooperation with Russia 11 months before the start of the Ukraine war.” Amir-Abdollahian said Iran and Ukrainian military officials had met in a third country to discuss the issue, and that “we are continuing our investigations.”

Amir-Abdollahian appeared to suggest that the Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba had told him by telephone that a drone captured by Ukrainian forces had Russian markings but “looks like an Iranian witness drone,” a model rendered in English as ‘Witness-136.’ This, Amir-Abdollahian argued, was “proof that Iran is sticking to its positions.”

The foreign minister said Iran was committed to diplomatic solutions both to the Ukraine war and the current stand-off in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Amir-Abdollahian reiterated Iran’s view than the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should shelve its enquiry into unexplained uranium traces found in sites not declared as nuclear-related.

‘Exchange of messages should continue’

Amir-Abdollahian suggested that while efforts continued to revive the JCPOA, differences with the US remained on three issues, on which the three European JCPOA signatories were lining up with Washington. “One of these issues is solving the remaining issues of the agency [over the uranium traces], and the other issue is related to economic guarantee,” he said, referring to Iran’s expectation of being cushioned against the economic effects of the US again leaving the JCPOA and imposing sanctions, as it did in 2018 under previous president Donald Trump.

The foreign minister said that “the exchange of messages [with the US] should continue.” American officials have in recent weeks suggested that their focus is no longer on JCPOA restoration, and along with the three European states and the European Union have imposed new sanctions on Iran over military links with Russia and its response to domestic unrest.

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