After weeks of savaging Ukrainian cities with Iranian-made drones, Moscow has quietly reached an agreement with Tehran to begin manufacturing hundreds of unmanned weaponized aircraft on Russian soil, according to new intelligence seen by U.S. and other Western security agencies.
Russian and Iranian officials finalized the deal during a meeting in Iran in early November, and the two countries are moving rapidly to transfer designs and key components that could allow production to begin within months, three officials familiar with the matter said in interviews.
The agreement, if fully realized, would represent a further deepening of a Russia-Iran alliance that already has provided crucial support for Moscow’s faltering military campaign in Ukraine, the officials said. By acquiring its own assembly line, Russia could dramatically increase its stockpile of relatively inexpensive but highly destructive weapons systems that, in recent weeks, have changed the character of the Ukraine war.
Russia has deployed more than 400 Iranian-made attack drones against Ukraine since August, intelligence officials say, with many of the aircraft used in strikes against civilian infrastructure targets such as power plants. After being forced to abandon Ukrainian territory its forces captured early in the war, Moscow has shifted to a strategy of relentless air assaults on Ukrainian cities, using a combination of cruise missiles and self-detonating drones packed with explosives to knock out electricity and running water for millions of people.
For Moscow, the agreement could fill a critical need for precision-guided munitions, which are in short supply after nine months of fighting. The arrangement also offers substantial economic and political benefits for Iran, the officials say. While Tehran has sought to portray itself as neutral in the Ukraine war, the appearance of Iranian-made drones over Ukrainian cities has triggered threats of new economic sanctions from Europe. Iran’s leaders may believe that they can avert new sanctions if the drones are physically assembled in Russia, the officials said. [Continue reading…]