Fears have erupted about deepening ties between Moscow and Tehran after the Ukrainian military reported finding an Iranian-supplied suicide drone used by Russian forces. This is the first time a weapon of this kind has been used by Russia since the invasion began. The concerning development comes after US intelligence warned back in July that Iran planned to send hundreds of bomb-carrying drones to Russia to help its efforts to crush Ukraine.
Tehran initially denied these reports, but in recent days the head of its Revolutionary Guard has boasted about arming the world’s top powers.
A Ukrainian military official, as well as a pro-Ukrainian army website closely associated with the military, published images of the wreckage of the drone.
It resembled a triangle, or delta-shaped, drone flown by Iran known as the Shahed, or “Witness” in Farsi.
The military official and the website both said Ukrainian troops encountered the drone near Kupiansk during the Ukrainian offensive that has destroyed Russian front lines around Kharkiv.
The image suggested the Shahed drone had been shot down by Ukrainian forces and had failed to detonate on impact as it should have.
An inscription on the drone identified it as an “M214 Geran-2,” which didn’t immediately correspond to known Russian weaponry.
Iran has multiple versions of the Shahed which have been reported around the world.
One allegedly overflew a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, another has been used by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, more attacked oil depots in Saudi Arabia as well as allegedly killing two sailors aboard an oil tanker off Oman in 2021.
Tehran is battling crippling sanctions over the collapse of the nuclear deal in 2018 which was triggered by then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrawing from the accord.
Negotiations over the deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for sanctions being lifted, again appear deadlocked.
Ukraine and Iran also have tense relations, stemming from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shooting down a Ukrainian passenger jet in 2020, killing all 176 people on board.
The report of the new weapon comes amid a fierce Ukrainian counter-offensive that has seen the embattled nation reclaim more than 3,000 square kilometers of land in Kharkiv.
Ukraine’s general staff said its soldiers had recaptured more than 20 towns and villages in just the past day, as Ukrainian forces swept deeper into territory seized from fleeing Russian troops.
Many of the withdrawing Russian soldiers have fled across the border into Russia, a senior US military official said on Monday.
Reports of Russian forces abandoning their equipment “could be indicative of Russia’s disorganised command and control,” the official said.
The astonishing accomplishment has been described as “the greatest counter-offensive since World War II” by military expert John Spencer.