How many Iranian drones does Russia have left in its arsenal against Ukraine?

Ukraine says that Russia seeks to purchase several thousand more drones from Iran.

 A drone is launched during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on August 25, 2022 (photo credit: 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
(photo credit: VIA REUTERS)

Russia has approximately 300 Iranian drones left in its arsenal but plans to buy thousands more, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said on Friday evening, even as on Sunday morning Iranian officials continued to deny the sale of any weapons to Moscow for use in the invasion of Ukraine.

"They [Russia] plan to buy several thousand more," Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said according to his ministry. "We know how to shoot them down. We are doing so and studying them."

Iran denial of drone sales

Iran's Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdullahian, spoke to his Portuguese counterpart over the weekend denying claims by Ukrainian, American and British intelligence officials that the Islamic Republic was supplying suicide drones to Russia. Iran has been denying sales of kamikaze drones to Russia since they came into use in August, the UK Defense Ministry has previously noted. 

Abdullahian said that Iran did not provide any weapons to either side of the conflict. 

"We believe that arming either side will prolong the war, and we do not think that war is the right way; not in Ukraine, not in Yemen, not in Syria, not in Afghanistan," Abdullahian said according to Maariv

 A part of an unmanned aerial vehicle, what Ukrainian military authorities described as an Iranian made suicide drone Shahed-136 and which was shot down near the town of Kupiansk, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, is seen in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released September 13, 2022 (credit: THE STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTORATE OF THE UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A part of an unmanned aerial vehicle, what Ukrainian military authorities described as an Iranian made suicide drone Shahed-136 and which was shot down near the town of Kupiansk, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, is seen in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released September 13, 2022 (credit: THE STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTORATE OF THE UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Iran has long been alleged by several states to be arming militant factions in Syria and Yemen.

Ukraine has alleged that Iran is providing more than just the weapon platforms, but has even had Iranian instructors within the Kherson and Crimea areas to launch the kamikaze drones themselves.

"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," said the Ukrainian National Resistance Center. "As we can see, Iran helps the aggressor not only with equipment but also with people."

"Approximately 300 Iranian drones remains in the Russian arsenal. They plan to buy several thousand more."

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov

Ukraine pushes back against Iran

The use of Iranian drones by Russia has become a large talking point in Ukrainian rhetoric to international audiences. 

On Saturday the Ukrainian Defense Ministry shared a profile on a pilot, calling him a "Shahed killer" who had shot down five Iranian drones — Referencing one of the most prominent Iranian drones being used by Russia, the Shahed-136. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has directly addressed Iran's denials in speeches, saying that "people see them [Iranian drones] in the sky. We shoot them down. But we are told that there are allegedly no Iranian drones in Ukraine. Well, we’ll find ways to ensure that there aren't any left, indeed."

"They [Iran] 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."

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov

Ukraine versus Iranian drones

The alleged impending purchase of thousands of Iranian drones by Russia comes amid reports that Russia is becoming reliant on Iran to fill the gap in its need for loitering munitions and reconnaissance drones. Maariv reported that a Thursday EU report indicated that the Kremlin had a dependence on Iranian drones that indicated the difficulty of Russia's military position. The EU report comes after Russian state media reported that the Russian defense industry was unable to meet the military's tactical and technical requirements for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

However, the UK Defense Ministry has assessed that the drones have had limited impact as a weapon, having too short of a range and not a large enough payload. 

Dozens of Iranian kamikaze drones have been used as part of recent Russian bombardments of Ukrainian infrastructure. In one volley on Monday, 86 drones were launched, the Ukrainian military said, and it claimed to have downed 60% of them. 

If true, one factor that may be helping Ukrainian air defenses is intelligence sharing with Israel. On Wednesday, a New York Times report cited a senior Israeli official who reportedly told the Times that Israel has been providing Ukraine with "basic intelligence" on the Iranian drones used by Russia. 

Ukraine has reportedly shot down over 1200 drones since the war began in February, according to its defense ministry's figures. Open-source intelligence estimates put the figures lower.