WASHINGTON (AP) — Iran is providing Russia with materials to build a drone manufacturing plant east of Moscow as the Kremlin looks to lock in a steady supply of weaponry for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, according to a United States (US) intelligence finding released by the White House on Friday.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said US intelligence officials believe a plant in Russia’s Alabuga special economic zone could be operational early next year. The White House also released satellite imagery taken in April of the industrial location, several hundred miles east of Moscow, where it believes the plant “will probably be built.”
President Joe Biden’s administration publicly stated in December that it believed Tehran and Moscow were considering standing up a drone assembly line in Russia for the Ukraine war. The new intelligence suggests that the project, in the Yelabuga region of Tatarstan, has moved beyond conception.
Iran has said it provided drones to Russia before the start of the war but not since.
Kirby said that US officials also have determined that Iran continues to supply the Russian military with one-way attack drones made in Iran: The drones are shipped via the Caspian Sea, from Amirabad in Iran to Makhachkala, Russia, and then are used by Russian forces against Ukraine.
As of May, Russia had received hundreds of one-way attack drones, as well as drone production-related equipment, from Iran, according to the White House.
“This is a full-scale defence partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbours, and to the international community,” Kirby said. “We are continuing to use all the tools at our disposal to expose and disrupt these activities including by sharing this with the public — and we are prepared to do more.”
The Biden administration on Friday issued an advisory meant to help businesses and other governments put in place measures to ensure they are not inadvertently contributing to Iran’s drone program.
The notice from the departments of Commerce, State, Justice and Treasury said it was “critical that private industry be aware of its legal obligations” to abide by US export controls and sanctions.
The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom in recent months all have issued rules designed to cut off the flow of drone components to Russia and Iran.
The Biden administration has repeatedly publicised intelligence findings that detail how Iran is assisting the Russian invasion.
The persistent drip of intelligence findings from the administration is intended to detail what U.S. officials say is a deepening defence partnership between Russia and Iran. It’s also part of a broader administration effort to spotlight Moscow’s prosecution of its war in Ukraine in hopes of further promoting global isolation of Russia.
The White House last month said Russia was looking to buy additional advanced attack drones from Iran after using up most of the 400 drones it had previously purchased from Tehran.
The Biden administration last year first publicised satellite imagery and intelligence findings that it said indicated Iran sold hundreds of attack drones to Russia. For months, officials have said the United States believed Iran was considering selling hundreds of ballistic missiles to Russia, but White House officials have said they do not have evidence a deal was consummated.
The White House has noted that Iran also has weapons flowing its way from Russia.
Iran is seeking to purchase additional military equipment from Russia, including attack helicopters, radars and YAK-130 combat trainer aircraft, according to the White House. In April, Iran announced that it had finalised a deal to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia.