October 31, 2022

The Dangers of Iran’s Drones in Ukraine

Originally published in The Hill

The Russian military has attacked multiple Ukrainian cities with Iranian drones in recent weeks. The White House confirmed that Iran supplied Russia with dozens of drones and has more shipments on the way — 2,400, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — and has operators deployed with the Russian military in Crimea. The use of Iranian drones in Ukraine has sparked concern over the deepening Iranian-Russo ties and the maturity of Iran’s drone program. But for Iran, Ukraine serves as another battlefield to live-test its drone fleet against U.S.- and NATO-provided defensive systems. 

Tehran has placed itself firmly in the Kremlin’s camp since the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Part of that is driven by the punishing sanctions regime that weighs heavily on both economies and part by a shared interest in weakening the U.S. and NATO. But the nature of Iran’s support shifted when Tehran supplied drones and then began training Russian forces on their use. Reports of the deal surfaced in midsummer and by August, Iranian drones were in Ukraine. The precise terms remain unclear, but Iranian drones offset surveillance demands on the Russian air force and may backfill rapidly depleting missile stockpiles. For Iran, the deal generates cash or repays a debt — but more significantly places its drones in yet another theater.

Read more in The Hill.

Cleary Waldo, a master’s candidate at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, contributed to this article.