Nov 5 (Reuters) – Iran acknowledged on Saturday for the first time supplying drones to Moscow, but said they had been sent before the war to Ukraine, where Russia used them to target power plants and civil infrastructure.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said a “small number” of drones were dispatched a few months before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has accused Tehran of lying, saying Kyiv forces shoot down at least 10 unmanned aerial vehicles every day.
In Iran’s most detailed response to date, Amirabdollahian denied that Tehran continues to supply drones to Moscow.
“This story made by some Western countries that Iran supplied missiles and drones to Russia to help the war in Ukraine – the missile part is completely false,” the official IRNA news agency said.
“The drone part is true and we supplied Russia with a small number of drones months before the war in Ukraine,” he said.
In recent weeks, Ukraine has reported an upsurge in drone attacks on civilian infrastructure, including targeting power plants and dams, using Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones. Russia denies that its forces used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine.
In a video address, Zelenskiy dismissed talk of limited Iranian deliveries to Russia, saying Ukraine shot down 11 drones on Friday alone.
“If Iran continues to lie about the obvious, it means that the world will make even more efforts to investigate terrorist cooperation between the Russian and Iranian regimes and what Russia is paying Iran for such cooperation,” he said.
Separately, the US special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, tweeted that it was wrong that Iran sent a few drones.
“They transferred dozens of them this summer and have military personnel in occupied Ukraine helping Russia use them,” he said.
Zelenskiy, who has repeatedly pressed his allies to provide more defenses against aircraft and missiles, said he expected “good news” in the coming weeks but gave no details. Kyiv, he added, will launch a fundraising campaign next week to purchase marine drones.
Last month, two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters that Iran had promised to provide Russia surface-to-surface missilesplus more drones.
IRNA quoted Amirabdollahian as saying Tehran and Kyiv had agreed to discuss allegations of Iranian drone use but the Ukrainians did not show up for the talks.
In a response on Facebook, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said Amirabdollahian was spreading “innuendo about an alleged refusal by the Ukrainian side”.
Amirabdollahian reiterated that Tehran “would not remain indifferent” if it was proven that Russia had used Iranian drones against Ukraine.
Last month, the European Union agreed new sanctions against Iran over drone deliveries, and Britain imposed sanctions on three Iranian military figures and a manufacturer of defense equipment.
Reporting by Gulf Newsroom; Additional reporting by Dan Peleschuk and David Ljunggren; Editing by Jon Boyle and Jonathan Oatis
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