Iran sends drone trainers to Crimea in latest sign of deepening relations between the country and Russia
- Iran sent personnel to Russia train Russian soldiers in flying Iranian drones, according to US officials.
- The move signals an increasing closeness between Moscow and Tehran.
Iran sent military personnel to Crimea to help train Russian forces in operating the Iranian-acquired drones that Russia has deployed in recent attacks throughout Ukraine, according to media reports.
The Iranian trainers' arrival at a Russian military base in occupied Crimea signals a deepening relationship between Iran and Russia following the latter's purchase of a fleet of drones from the former amid the ongoing war.
The Daily Mirror was the first to report the presence of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specialists in Crimea earlier this week, and The New York Times, CNN, and several other outlets confirmed their presence on Tuesday citing US officials familiar with classified intelligence.
A spokesperson with the State Department declined to comment on "purported intelligence leaks," but stressed that the agency has been warning since July that Iran was planning to give weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine.
"There is abundant evidence that Iranian UAVs have been used to attack Ukrainian civilians and military targets, although Iran continues to lie shamelessly about its involvement," the spokesperson told Insider. "The presence of Iranian trainers on the ground in Russian-occupied Ukraine would further implicate Iran in assisting Russia's unprovoked and brutal war, including attacks on Ukrainian civilians."
Russia in recent days has relied on Iranian drones in a series of attacks targeting civilian and electrical infrastructure. Russia's initial acquisition of the weapons signaled an increasing closeness to Iran, and the reported deployment of elite forces to Crimea is yet another sign of Tehran's growing influence in the war.
"Sending drones and trainers to Ukraine has enmeshed Iran deeply into the war on the Russian side and involved Tehran directly in operations that have killed and injured civilians," Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official and retired CIA officer, told The Times.
It was not immediately clear how many Iranian trainers had arrived in Crimea or whether they remain at the same base where most of the drones have resided since arriving from Iran. One intelligence source told CNN that "dozens" of Iranian personnel had been sent.
According to officials, Russia first began testing and using the drones in August, but due to user error, experienced several failures with the weapons. Russia initially sent its operatives to Iran to remedy the errors, but Iran in recent weeks has opted instead to send its trainers into Crimea, according to reports.
The Iranian elite forces are stationed in Crimea far from the fighting and are primarily focused on training Russian soldiers in flying the drones, The Times reported. It is not clear if Iranian personnel are flying the aircraft themselves.
Iran provided Russia with two types of drones, including Shaheds, which have a range of more than 1,000 miles and are meant to explode and destroy targets, and the Mohajer-6, which are often used for surveillance and carry missiles.
US officials have cited Russia's reliance on Iran for drones as proof that Western sanctions are effectively curtailing Russia's ability to replenish its weapon stocks, several outlets said.
But Russia has still managed to wreak terror throughout Ukraine in recent days as the country launched a bombardment of suicide drones and strikes that have left several people dead and civilian infrastructure devastated.
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