The Biden administration is releasing intelligence showing the deepening defense relationship between Russia and Iran, releasing imagery on drone manufacturing and delivery to the battlefield in Ukraine.
A now-declassified government graphic shows the drones are built in Iran, shipped across the Caspian Sea to Russia — with a port Iran helped develop — and then transferred to two air bases.
Russian forces eventually use those weapons in Ukraine, where Moscow has for months terrorized the Ukrainian people with Iranian-made drones. As of May, Russia has received hundreds of one-way attack craft, as well as production-related equipment from Tehran, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement.
The Kremlin asked for more attack drone deliveries from Iran last month after depleting previous shipments, a development that the Biden administration announced in another attempt to name and shame the two nations.
U.S. officials also have information that Russia is receiving materials from Iran necessary to build a drone manufacturing facility inside Russia, which could be “fully operational” by early next year, Kirby said. Satellite imagery released on Friday showed the planned location of the plant in Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone.
The intelligence confirms suspicions that have surfaced in open-source platforms about connections between Alabuga and Iran. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that the two countries had plans to build such a factory, which could make at least 6,000 drones for the war in Ukraine.
At the same time, Russia has offered Iran “unprecedented” defense cooperation, Kirby said. Tehran is seeking billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment from Moscow, including Su-35 fighter jets, attack helicopters, radars and Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft.
“This is a full-scale defense partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbors, and to the international community,” Kirby said. “We are continuing to use all the tools at our disposal to expose and disrupt these activities including by sharing this with the public — and we are prepared to do more.”
A senior administration official said the U.S. is releasing the information in order to disrupt Iran’s plans.
“Actors like Iran want this kind of behavior to be secret. We are shining a light on it publicly to let Iran know we are aware of exactly what they’re doing, and to build pressure on Iran internationally, having alerted other countries to Iran’s actions,” said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive internal thinking.
The news comes as Ukraine appeared to launch its long-anticipated counteroffensive this week, mounting a major attack in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia armed with advanced weapons from allies and Western-trained forces.
Kirby said the U.S. will continue to impose sanctions on the entities involved in the transfer of Iranian military equipment to Russia for use in Ukraine. This is in addition to new steps the Biden administration, along with the European Union and the United Kingdom, has already taken to restrict the transfer of electronic components found in Iranian drones to the battlefield in Ukraine.
On Friday, the administration plans to announce “a new U.S. government advisory to help businesses and other governments better understand the risks posed by Iran’s [unmanned aerial vehicle] program and the illicit practices Iran uses to procure components for it,” Kirby said. “This will help governments and businesses put in place measures to ensure they are not inadvertently contributing to Iran’s UAV program.”