Russian drone
Russian drone iStock

After weeks of savaging Ukrainian cities with Iranian-made drones, Moscow has quietly reached an agreement with Tehran to begin manufacturing hundreds of unmanned weaponized aircraft on Russian soil, the Washington Post reported Saturday, citing new intelligence seen by US and other Western security agencies.

ls finalized the deal during a meeting in Iran in early November, and the two countries are moving rapidly to transfer designs and key components that could allow production to begin within months, three officials familiar with the matter told the newspaper.

The agreement, if fully realized, would represent a further deepening of a Russia-Iran alliance that already has provided crucial support for Moscow’s faltering military campaign in Ukraine, the officials said. By acquiring its own assembly line, Russia could dramatically increase its stockpile of relatively inexpensive but highly destructive weapons systems that, in recent weeks, have changed the character of the Ukraine war.

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.

In September, 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.

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, recently acknowledged for the first time that his country gave drones to Russia, saying that the deliveries happened before the war started. Iranian officials had previously denied sending any drones to Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later said in an address to the Ukrainian people that he knows Iran’s claims are false.

According to Saturday’s report, details of the Iran-Russia deal were finalized in the early November meeting, which involved a team of Russian defense industry negotiators who traveled to Tehran to work out the logistics, said security officials from two countries that monitored the events.

A separate delegation headed by Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev traveled to Tehran on November 9 to discuss, among other topics, economic sanctions and other “Western interference” in their governments’ affairs, according to state-run Russian and Iranian news media.

One of the officials briefed on the secret agreement described an aggressive effort by both countries to facilitate production of Iranian-designed drones inside Russia.

National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement to The Washington Post, “Iran and Russia can lie to the world, but they can’t hide the facts: Tehran is helping kill Ukrainian civilians through the provision of weapons and assisting Russia in its operations. It’s another sign of how isolated both Iran and Russia are.”

“The United States — with allies and partners — is pursuing all means to expose, deter, and confront Iran’s provision of these munitions and Russia’s use of them against the Ukrainian people. We will continue to provide Ukraine with the critical security assistance it needs to defend itself, including air defense systems,” Watson added.