Iran has sent trainers to Ukraine to help Russians overcome problems with the fleet of drones that they purchased from Tehran, current and former US officials told The New York Times on Tuesday.
The Iranian trainers are operating from a Russian military base in Crimea where many of the drones have been based since being delivered from Iran, the report said. The trainers are from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a branch of the Iranian military designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.
“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,” said Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official and retired C.I.A. officer.
“Even if they’re just trainers and tactical advisers in Ukraine, I think that’s substantial,” he added.
The comments follow a report by the Institute for the Study of War (IFSW), published last week, which indicated that members of the IRGC may have traveled to Russian-held territories in Ukraine in order to help train Russian troops.
The IFSW report said that Russian forces "may have" brought IRGC-affiliated personnel to train the troops in the use of the Shahed-136 drones, in another example of the warming relationship between Moscow and Tehran.
In July, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the US had intelligence indicating that Russia is looking to Iran for UAVs.
He indicated at the time that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with several UAVs for use in Ukraine, and train Russian forces to use these UAVs.
A month later, it was reported that Iran had begun training Russians to use its drones, though it was also noted that Russia is experiencing “numerous failures” and technical glitches with the drones it purchased from Iran.
Last month, Ukraine reported the first Russian attacks carried out using Iranian-made drones, targeting the south of the country, including the strategic city of Odessa on the Black Sea.
At the start of October, Iranian-made drones were also reportedly used in an attack in the Ukrainian town of Bila Tserkva, southwest of the capital Kyiv.
While Iran has officially denied supplying Russia with drones for use in Ukraine, US officials said that the first batch of such weapons was delivered in August.
Those include Shaheds, which are single-use drones meant to explode and destroy targets, but which have a range of more than 1,000 miles. Iran has also sent the larger Mohajer-6 drone, which is used for surveillance and can carry up to four missiles.