White House Says Iran Is Helping Russia Build a Drone Factory

The administration’s announcement comes on the heels of reports that the US and Iran are close to an interim nuclear deal including some sanctions relief

As part of a "deepening" military partnership between Iran and Russia amid the war in Ukraine, US intelligence officials believe Tehran is assisting Moscow in building a drone manufacturing plant that may be operational next year, the White House said on Friday. American officials claim hundreds of Iranian drones were transported to Russia via the Caspian Sea last month.

The drones are "shipped across the Caspian Sea, from Amirabad, Iran, to Makhachkala, Russia, and then used operationally by Russian forces against Ukraine," said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. "As of May, Russia received hundreds of one-way attack [unmanned aerial vehicles], as well as UAV production-related equipment, from Iran," Kirby added.

The Islamic Republic insists that it has not provided drones to Russia since the Kremlin launched its invasion last year.

According to Kirby, the alleged drone factory will be built in the Alabuga special economic zone in the Russian republic of Tatarstan. The White House released a satellite photo that purports to show an industrial site, 600 miles east of Moscow in the Yelabuga region, where Russia will "probably" conduct the "domestic production of Iranian designed UAVs."

Tehran is said to be providing materials necessary for building the plant as well. The extent of the evidence presented is this photograph and a color coded map showing the ostensible shipping route from Iran to Russia across the Caspian Sea.

This story was originally reported in the Wall Street Journal months ago, citing foreign officials "aligned" with Washington, but no new or significant evidence appears to have been presented, although media reports portray this declassification as significant.

Kirby went on to warn Iran and Russia will be held “accountable" for violating UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal, which the US illegally exited five years ago.

Although, according to the Arms Control Association, this claim is in dispute because the restrictions on weapons Kirby is referring to are related to "importing or exporting nuclear-capable delivery systems or certain components that could be used to develop nuclear-capable delivery systems."

A report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute about the UN arms embargo on Iran explains "restrictions on supplies of major arms to and all arms from Iran expired in October 2020."

Additionally, for months, officials have warned Iran was considering selling Russia hundreds of ballistic missiles, but administration officials have now said they lack any evidence of deals taking place.

The US is also releasing an advisory so other countries and foreign business entities can "better understand the risks posed by Iran’s UAV program and the illicit practices Iran uses to procure components for it," Kirby said. This should "help governments and businesses put in place measures to ensure they are not inadvertently contributing to Iran’s UAV program," Kirby added.

Reports this week revealed the US and Iran are engaged in direct talks nearing an interim deal which would see Tehran regain access to $20 billion in frozen assets as well as restart some oil exports. Though Congressional hawks along with the Israelis remain strongly opposed to any potential deal with Iran.

Kiev has, in recent months, unleashed a plethora of drone strikes as well as shelling attacks and paramilitary raids targeting civilian infrastructure, residential areas, military training grounds, railways, and oil facilities, inside mainland Russia as well as Crimea.

Last December, Ukraine used drones to strike the Engels airfield – located hundreds of miles deep inside Russia – where nuclear capable bombers were stored. Asia Times has reported, citing NATO military sources, that the drones Kiev launched in the attack utilized "US satellite GPS data to hit their targets."

Israel has also carried out several drone strikes inside Iran during the Biden administration as part of a major assassination campaign last year. These attacks receive no less than the Biden administration’s tacit endorsement.

Last fall, Mykhailo Podolyak, one of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s top advisors, threatened war with Iran and called for a total embargo on the country along with military strikes.

For Iran’s part, in November, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said that a meeting was planned where Ukraine would have disclosed evidence to the Iranian side that their drones were, in fact, being used to attack Ukraine.

But the deal was sabotaged. "We had such an appointment two weeks ago in a European country, a military and political delegation went to that European country, but unfortunately at the last minute the Ukrainian delegation did not attend due to pressure from the US and some European countries, in particular Germany," Amirabhollahian told reporters. Since then, Zelesnky has asked the Ukrainian parliament to sanction Iran for at least half a century.

Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on the Conflicts of Interest podcast. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as Antiwar.com, Counterpunch, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter@FreemansMind96.