Iranian soldiers on ground in Ukraine aiding Russians, White House confirms

"We assess that Iranian personnel — Iranian military personnel — were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia in these operations," said Ned Price.

Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri and other top commanders inspect drones as they are prepared for large-scale drone combat exercise of Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Semnan, Iran January 4, 2021 (photo credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA/REUTERS)
Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri and other top commanders inspect drones as they are prepared for large-scale drone combat exercise of Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Semnan, Iran January 4, 2021
(photo credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA/REUTERS)

Iranian military personnel are on the ground in occupied Ukrainian territories providing aid to the Russian military in their ongoing invasion, the White House confirmed on Thursday night.

"We can confirm that Russian military personnel based in Crimea have been piloting Iranian UAVs and using them to conduct kinetic strikes across Ukraine in strikes against Kyiv, and in recent days we assess that Iranian personnel — Iranian military personnel — were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia in these operations," said US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price.

Iranian instructors oversee kamikaze drone attacks

The White House's confirmation comes after an accusation from the Ukrainian National Resistance Center on Wednesday that Iranian instructors were overseeing Russian forces launching kamikaze drones from within annexed Ukrainian territory.

"The Russians took Iranian instructors to the territory of the temporarily occupied Kherson Region and Crimea to launch Shahed-136 kamikaze drones," the government body alleged, citing Ukrainian underground resistance. "They teach the Russians how to use kamikaze drones, and directly monitor the launch of drones on Ukrainian civilian targets, including strikes on Mykolaiv and Odesa."

"We assess that Iranian personnel — Iranian military personnel — were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia in these operations."

US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price

Sales of Iranian drones to Russia likely to continue

Price continued to confirm that "Russia has received dozens of these UAVs so far and will likely continue to receive additional shipments in the future."

A drone is launched during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on August 25, 2022. (credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)A drone is launched during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on August 25, 2022. (credit: IRANIAN ARMY/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

According to Western intelligence reports, Russia has been using Iranian drones in Ukraine since at least August. In particular, Russia has been accused of using Shahed-136 and Mohajer-6 reconnaissance drones. They've been increasingly been seen used in large Russian bombardments of Ukrainian infrastructure. 

"Approximately 300 Iranian drones remains in the Russian arsenal," Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said last Friday. "They plan to buy several thousand more."

Iran and Russia deny cooperation

"In spite of all this we've seen Russia and Iran continue to lie...continue to claim that they are not providing this material," said Price on Thursday night.

The denials continued last weekend when Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdullahian told his Portuguese counterpart that Iran did not sell drones or any weapons to either party to the conflict. 
"We believe that arming either side will prolong the war, and we do not think that war is the right way," Abdullahian said according to Maariv. 
Price said that "indisputable proof" had emerged of Irain's involvement in the Russia-Ukraine War and had been presented to the  UN Security Council on Wednesday.
Images of Iranian-Russian drones have emerged in recent days on social and mainstream media platforms. CNN was shown a largely intact reconnaissance drone by the Ukrainian military, which claimed that there had been efforts to cover up its Iranian origin. 

Missiles sold to Russia

Reuters was also told by two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats on Tuesday that Iran had not only agreed to sell drones to Russia, it had also agreed to sell the Kremlin surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, confirming an earlier report by The Washington Post

"The Russians had asked for more drones and those Iranian ballistic missiles with improved accuracy, particularly the Fateh and Zolfaghar missiles family," said one of the Iranian diplomats.

The sale of the missiles comes as suspicion has been raised by Ukrainian defense officials that Russia is depleting its high-precision missile stocks in its recent bombardment campaign.