After confirmed reports of Iran supplying Russia with drones, Kyiv responded by downgrading its diplomatic relations with Tehran. Kyiv revoked the accreditation of the Iranian ambassador to Ukraine and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the Iranian move “a collaboration with evil.” Although as usual Iran denied the reports, the recent shooting down of eight Iranian-made drones by Ukrainian forces has embarrassed the Iranian government and highlighted once again its blatant lies and its support for the wrong side.
The downed Iranian-made drones included the Shahed-136 and the Mohajer-6. More focus has been on the former, especially as multiple intelligence reports had confirmed the supply of this drone since April. The Shahed-136 drones can target radar systems and simultaneously artillery and they can be more effective when used along with antijamming systems. Furthermore, since these drones are relatively smaller in size and fly at very low altitudes, it makes it difficult for Ukrainian air-defense systems to detect their movement. These kamikaze drones are largely designed to hit ground targets in a self-destructive manner and as per reports, these drones have a wingspan of 2.5 meters and are 3.5 meters long with a maximum take-off weight of 200 kilograms, and can fly up to 2,500 kilometers at a speed of 185 kilometers per hour. On the other hand, the Mohajer-6drones are 5.5 meters long with a wingspan of 10 meters and as per reports they can fly up to 200 kilometers per hour with up to 12 hours endurance. This multipurpose drone has a take-off weight of 600 kilograms and can deploy bombs and short-range missiles.
Ukrainian forces shot down these drones in the Kharkiv region’s city of Kupiansk. Ukraine’s military published several images of the drones’ debris which revealed that the Shahed-136 drone had been repainted in Russia and renamed Geranium 2. As per Ukrainian military commanders, Russia caused damage to Ukrainian forces with the Iranian drones. Commander of Artillery of Ukraine’s 92nd Mechanized Brigade Col. Rodion Kulagin, the said that the Iranian drones fly in pairs and crash into their targets and such attacks have so far destroyed 152-millimeter self-propelled howitzers and infantry vehicles in his brigade’s operational area.
In the current context, Russia’s use of Iranian drones and the growing military ties between both countries reflect three key developments. Firstly, both countries are facing global condemnation and sanctions that have choked their economic prospects and financial transactions. Iran in recent years has ramped up drone exports as it foresees huge profits in this sector. Moreover, Iran inaugurated its first drone factory abroad in Tajikistan earlier this year. Over the past decades, Iran has been producing various weapons and military equipment domestically and is aiming to bolster its defense exports; a plan that complements Iran’s increased defense spending. Reports also indicate that Iran is aiming to be a major weapons exporter which explains its swiftness in exploiting the war in Ukraine to maximize its drone supplies to Russia, especially amid intelligence reports indicating Moscow’s significant loss of military equipment. Secondly, Iran has often depended on utilizing drones in its proxy conflicts and several reports prove that the IRGC has a history of supplying drones to Tehran’s regional allies and proxy militias in countries such as Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Because of the importance of drones to Iran’s regional plans, it has over time developed mechanisms to swiftly assemble and manufacture drones through its clandestine supply chains amid sanctions and the cheap guided unmanned weapons systems are an advantage not only for itself and its proxies but also for Russia. Iranian-made drones are cheap to buy, and their unmanned nature means no human losses for Russia. Thirdly, Iran’s supply of drones and their use in the Ukrainian theater prove that its attempt to play a diplomatic role to solve the Ukraine-Russia conflict was nothing but a lie and its so-called “neutrality” on conflict was also a smokescreen for deepening its military ties with Moscow.
Overall, it is accurate to conclude that Iran’s deepening military ties with Russia reflect the two countries’ shared concerns and mutual interests. Iran wants to expand its defense exports which are likely to grow in the coming years. Moreover, it is important to consider that Iran’s supply of drones to Russia or its behavior in the Middle East at this moment in time coincides with attempts to finalize the nuclear deal in Vienna. Tehran arrogantly believes it can draw more concessions from the United States by escalating conflicts and increasing its own belligerency whether directly or indirectly.