Iran tries to downplay potential drone transfers to Russia - analysis

The Kremlin said that the drones would not be discussed when Putin visits Iran next week • Iranian FM: we won’t help either side in this war because it should be stopped

Iranian armed forces members march during a ceremony of the National Army Day parade in Tehran, Iran April 18, 2022 (photo credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)
Iranian armed forces members march during a ceremony of the National Army Day parade in Tehran, Iran April 18, 2022
(photo credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)

Iran wants to downplay reports that it could provide Russia with drones, because it doesn't want to anger Ukraine. A series of moves by Iran indicate an attempt to downplay the US accusations that it could be sending armed drones to Moscow.

The US made the accusations on the eve of President Joe Biden’s trip to the Middle East. Iranian drones have been used to threaten American forces, Israel and Saudi Arabia, among other countries and groups. Biden visited the two Middle Eastern countries during the trip.  

Iran is seeking to downplay reports that it is going to provide Russia with drones, according to a Friday report by Fars News. Tehran has not provided much response since US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said last week that the Islamic Republic could provide Russia with hundreds of drones.

The Kremlin did say that the drones would not be discussed when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Iran next week. Last Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian presidency had “no comments on this matter,” according to reports. 

Sullivan said last week that “our information indicates that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred UAVs, including weapons-capable UAVs on an expedited timeline.” Now, Iran’s Fars News has somewhat responded to the story.

 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian attend a joint news conference in Moscow, Russia March 15, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/MAXIM SHEMETOV/POOL) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian attend a joint news conference in Moscow, Russia March 15, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/MAXIM SHEMETOV/POOL)

The article relies on US reports to deny the claim, a typical Iranian media strategy that uses foreign reports in order to communicate what Iran wants the world to know. Fars News is close to both the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the regime. If drones are transferred to Russia, it remains to be seen if they would come from ones that the IRGC uses, such as the Ababil, or other stocks. Iran is now making drones in Tajikistan and it has transferred its Mohajer drones to Ethiopia and Venezuela. It has also moved drone technology to Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.  

“Our information indicates that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred UAVs, including weapons-capable UAVs on an expedited timeline.”

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan

Fars News says the Pentagon said that “there is no sign of Russia using Iranian weapons,” adding that “this US military official, whose name was not mentioned, said: ‘there is still no sign of Iranian weapons appearing among Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.’"

Iranian reports

At the same time, Iranian reports said that Iran’s foreign minister insisted that the country supports peace efforts in Ukraine but was open about the drone issue.

“We have various types of collaboration with Russia, including in the defense sector,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said. “We won’t help either of the sides involved in this war because we believe that it [the war] needs to be stopped.” Now reports say that the foreign minister spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart and has denied that Iran will supply Russia with drones.  

“In a Friday phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian dismissed recent accusations leveled by the US national security adviser against Tehran," Iran's Press TV says. "The Iranian minister said such claims – coinciding with US President Joe Biden's visit to the occupied Palestinian territories – are in line with certain specific political objectives the White House is after.”

Kuleba had not addressed this phone call as of press time on Friday; the last time he tweeted about Iran was on June 30 when he wrote that he “spoke with Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian who informed me on Iran’s latest contacts with Russia. We exchanged views on a wide range of bilateral issues. I underlined that Russia violates the Convention on the Caspian Sea Status by firing missiles at Ukraine from this region.” 

The new Fars News report notes that Iran’s foreign ministry has cooperated with Russia for years with no specific change in this cooperation. “It is clear that they [Iranians] have the capability of domestic production," The article quoted Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby as saying.

"I don't know what the components of the agreement Mr. [Vladimir] Putin made include; I cannot talk specifically about how Iran will be able to meet this need,” he said. It was not immediately clear where the Iranian media got this quote from. Kirby is the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications. 

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Iran’s warships can now carry armed drones. This is an escalation in Iran’s drone threat. It has put drones on ships and fast boats. But it appears that Tehran has increased the range and capability of its drones. “Iran ‘welcomed’ Biden to the Persian Gulf on Friday by unveiling new drone advances that pose expanded threats to the US and its allies in the region,” Dion Nissenbaum of WSJ noted.