The White House announced on Thursday that Iranian troops are "directly engaged on the ground" in Crimea in support of Russian drone attacks on Ukraine's power stations and other key infrastructure, a troubling indication of Tehran's expanding role in aiding Russia as it inflicts suffering on Ukrainian civilians as winter approaches.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters that Iran has dispatched a "relatively small number" of personnel to Crimea, a region of Ukraine that Russia illegally annexed in 2014, to assist Russian troops in launching Iranian-made drones against Ukraine. According to the British government, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were dispatched to assist Russian forces with the use of drones.
The disclosure of the U.S. intelligence finding coincides with the Biden administration's efforts to increase international pressure on Tehran to stop assisting Russia in its bombardment of Ukrainian civilian targets using Iranian-made drones.
In recent days, the Russians have increasingly relied on Iranian-supplied drones and Kalibr and Iskander cruise missiles to launch attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure and non-military targets. Since October 10, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Russian forces have destroyed 30 percent of Ukraine's power plants.
"According to the information we have, the Iranians have placed trainers and technical support in Crimea, but the Russians are flying the aircraft," Kirby said.
He added that the Biden administration was considering new sanctions against Tehran and would look for ways to make it more difficult for Iran to sell these weapons to Russia.
This summer, the United States revealed for the first time that Russia had purchased Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles for use against Ukraine. Iran has denied selling Russia its munitions.
Officials at the White House claim that international sanctions, including export controls, have hampered the Russians' efforts to replenish depleted stocks of ammunition and precision-guided munitions during the nearly eight-month-old conflict. As a result, Russia has been forced to acquire weapons from Iran and North Korea.
Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's press secretary, told reporters that military officials "would not be surprised" if the Russians sought additional drones from Iran "given their current situation."
Last week, Zelenskyy stated that Russia had ordered 2,400 from Iran.
U.S. officials believe Iran may have deployed military personnel to assist the Russians due in part to the Russians' unfamiliarity with drones manufactured by Iran. The Russians encountered technical issues with the drones shortly after receiving them in August, according to declassified U.S. intelligence findings.
"The systems themselves were experiencing failures and were not performing to the expected standards," Kirby stated. Therefore, the Iranians decided to dispatch trainers and technical assistance to assist the Russians in maximizing the lethality of their weapons.
In a delicate moment, the Biden administration disclosed additional information regarding Iran's involvement in assisting Russia's war effort. The administration has imposed new sanctions against Iran in response to the brutal crackdown on antigovernment demonstrations sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Iranian security custody.
Last month, Amini was detained by morality police for not wearing the mandatory Islamic headscarf, also known as the hijab, for Iranian women. Three days after collapsing at the police station, Amini passed away.
Her death and the subsequent unrest have occurred as the administration attempts to bring Iran back into compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal that the Trump administration scrapped.
This week at the United Nations, Ukraine accused Iran of violating a Security Council ban on the transfer of 300-kilometer-flying drones (180 miles). Britain, France, and the United States strongly support Ukraine's claim that the transfer of drones to Russia violates a 2015 United Nations resolution. Resolution of the Security Council endorsing the nuclear agreement between Iran and six nations — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany — to limit Tehran's nuclear activities and prevent the country from developing a nuclear weapon.
Kirby stated that the administration has little hope for the imminent revival of the Iran nuclear deal.
"We are not focused on diplomacy at the moment," said Kirby. We are committed to holding the regime accountable for how they treat peaceful protesters in their country and supporting those protesters.
The White House commented on Iranian assistance to Russia as Britain announced new sanctions on Thursday against Iranian officials and companies accused of supplying drones.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement, "These cowardly drone strikes are an act of desperation." "By facilitating these strikes, these individuals and a manufacturer have caused unimaginable suffering to the Ukrainian people. They will be held accountable for their actions."
Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, chairman of the armed forces general staff overseeing the army branches supplying Russia with drones, Brigadier General Seyed Hojjatollah Qureishi, a key Iranian negotiator in the deal, and Brigadier General Saeed Aghajani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Force UAV Command, were among those hit with asset freezes and travel bans by the British.
Iranian manufacturer of Russian drones, Shahed Aviation Industries, was also subject to an asset freeze.