Drone factory Iran is helping build with Russia could be operational next year

Rescue workers at the site of a building damaged in a drone attack in Rzhyshchiv, Ukraine, March 22, 2023. (Laetitia Vancon/The New York Times)

Rescue workers at the site of a building damaged in a drone attack in Rzhyshchiv, Ukraine, March 22, 2023. (Laetitia Vancon/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — The military partnership between Moscow and Tehran is deepening, White House officials said Friday as they released newly declassified information about a drone factory Iran is helping Russia build.

Russia has repeatedly used Iranian-made drones to attack Ukraine in recent months, including strikes against civilian targets, buildings and electrical infrastructure as part of a campaign to shatter Ukrainian morale. . And as Moscow’s own arms stockpiles have dwindled, Iran has become a key supplier of military aid to Russia.

The new factory, which is planned for a warehouse in the Yelabuga region several hundred kilometers east of Moscow, would allow the Russian military to have its own source of locally produced attack drones. Iran is providing materials for the plant, said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who added that the facility could be operational next year.

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The plans for the factory have been known for some time. The Wall Street Journal reported on plans for a possible drone factory in Yelabuga in February, and the White House released a satellite image of the planned factory site dated early April.

A review of satellite imagery by The New York Times shows a series of new buildings constructed in the industrial area since 2021. Construction of the buildings highlighted by the White House in the declassified intelligence began in late January 2021, and a small structure was recently added, the Times review showed.

By releasing the declassified information, US officials are trying to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and make it harder to complete the work. On Friday, Kirby also said the United States would issue a new advisory intended to help companies around the world ensure they are “not inadvertently contributing” to Iran’s drone program.

A key part of the US strategy to help Ukraine is to prevent Russia from gaining access to new military equipment or replenishing its depleted stockpiles. And hindering trade between Russia and Iran is one of the most important elements of this effort.

Currently, according to the White House, Russian ships are ferrying drones from Amirabad, Iran, across the Caspian Sea to Makhachkala, Russia. From there, they are transported to two bases: one in northeastern Ukraine and one in eastern Ukraine. They are then used to attack Ukrainian targets.

Kirby said the arms trade between Iran and Russia flows both ways.

“Russia has offered Iran unprecedented defense cooperation, including on missiles, electronics and air defence,” he said, adding that Iran had finalized a deal to buy planes. Su-35 combat aircraft to Russia and was looking for attack helicopters, radars and combat training aircraft. .

Washington considers the drone purchases to be violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions and has imposed sanctions on Iranian companies involved in the design, construction and transport of the drones.

Kirby described Iran-Russia cooperation as “a full-scale defense partnership that harms Ukraine, Iran’s neighbors and the international community.”

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