UK backs Ukraine’s claim it downed Iran-made drone used by Russia

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Iranian government has not commented on allegations, but it has previously said it will not help either side in the war.

Tehran, Iran – The United Kingdom’s defence ministry has backed a Ukrainian claim that Ukraine’s forces likely shot down an Iranian-made drone that was used by Russia in its offensive against its neighbouring country.

In its latest military intelligence update on Wednesday, the ministry said it was “highly likely” that Russia has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) made by Iran in the nearly seven-month war in Ukraine.

“Russia is almost certainly increasingly sourcing weaponry from other heavily sanctioned states like Iran and North Korea as its own stocks dwindle,” it said.

The statement came a day after the Ukrainian military published several images and said it had likely shot down a drone near Kupiansk in Kharkiv that appeared to be an Iranian Shahed-136 model.

Ukrainian soldiers hold a flag on a rooftop in Kupiansk, Ukraine in this picture obtained from social media released on September 10, 2022 [Telegram @kuptg/via Reuters]

The Iranian government has yet to comment on the claims, but its officials have previously denied supplying Russia with drones to be used in Ukraine, saying Iran would not assist either side in the war as it backed its resolution through dialogue.

There are no known official specifications for the Shahed-136, but it is a so-called “suicide drone” that is capable of carrying a warhead over long distances.

The UK intelligence update said the alleged loss of the UAV near the front lines “suggests there is a realistic possibility that Russia is attempting to use the system to conduct tactical strikes rather than against more strategic targets farther into Ukrainian territory”.

It also said the Shahed-136 is suspected of being deployed by Iran in attacks in the Middle East, including a strike on the oil tanker MT Mercer Street in July 2021.

The United States and Israel had also blamed Iran for the attack last year, but the latter denied responsibility.

US viewpoint

The US first claimed in July that Iran was preparing to sell “hundreds” of armed drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine. US media reported late last month the first batch of two types of military drones, including the Shahed series, was delivered to Russia, but also said the drones faced mechanical and technical problems.

Earlier this month, the US also imposed sanctions on an Iranian company accused of coordinating military flights to transport Iranian drones to Russia, as well as on three companies it said were involved in the production of the UAVs.

Meanwhile, Hamid Vahedi, the commander of the Iranian army’s air force, said this month the purchase of advanced Russian-made Su-35 fighter jets – instead of an earlier model, the Su-30 – “is on the agenda” for the Iranian armed forces.

The announcement prompted speculation the pricey acquisition could be linked with drone exports, something that Iranian authorities have yet to comment on. Iran hosted a military drone competition last month in its central city of Kashan, where a drone base is located, with officials from Russia, Belarus and Armenia in attendance.

At the time, top commanders of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said Iran was exporting drones to major powers, without naming the destination countries. Iran also recently unveiled a second version of its Arash drone, which an IRGC commander said has been designed to attack Tel Aviv and Haifa in Iran’s arch foe, Israel.

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