Moscow and Tehran are moving ahead with plans to build a new factory in Russia that could make at least 6,000 Iranian-designed drones for the war in Ukraine, officials from a country aligned with the US told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.
As part of their emerging military alliance, the officials said, a high-level Iranian delegation flew to Russia in early January to visit the planned site for the factory and hammer out details to get the project up-and-running.
The two countries are aiming to build a faster drone that could pose new challenges for Ukrainian air defenses, the officials said.
In July, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the US had intelligence indicating that Russia is looking to Iran for 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.
In December, the White House warned that Moscow and Tehran were considering whether to build a joint drone-production line in Russia.
Now, the US-aligned officials told The Wall Street Journal, the talks have morphed into concrete plans with the Jan. 5 visit to the Russian town of Yelabuga, about 600 miles east of Moscow.
They toured the empty site where leaders from the two nations are planning to build a new factory that can produce at least 6,000 drones in the coming years, the officials added.
The officials said the Iranian delegation was led by Brig. Gen. Abdollah Mehrabi, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization, and Ghassem Damavandian, the chief executive of Iran’s Quds Aviation Industry, a key defense manufacturer that the US says is central to developing and building the country’s drones.
Russian and Iranian officials did not respond to requests for comment. Russia has repeatedly denied that it received drones from Iran.
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.
Despite this acknowledgement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry in late December blasted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who had criticized Iran for providing Russia with drones, saying his accusations were “baseless”.
“Zelenskyy had better know that Iran’s strategic patience over such unfounded accusations is not endless," the Ministry said.