Senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mikhail Podolyak, has called for an attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran after the Middle Eastern country supplied Russia with key precision guided assets to support its ongoing war effort against the Ukrainian Military. “I believe it’s necessary to not only impose sanctions and embargoes, I believe that it could be possible to launch strikes on drones and ballistic missiles manufacturing facilities [in Iran]. Such a state cannot continue doing this with impunity,” he stated, highlighting the recent success of Iranian supplied drones in “destroying our [Ukraine’s] critical infrastructure.”
The deployment of new single use ‘Kamikaze’ drones by the Russian Military, which Russian sources claim are of the indigenous Geranium-2 design but which are widely believed to be the Iranian Shahed-136, has since September played a major role in swaying the balance of power in the Ukrainian theatre. The aircraft provide a much more affordable and usable asset for strike missions than much larger cruise or ballistic missiles which Russia developed with war with NATO in mind. Alongside battlefield applications, the drones have played a key role in recent Russian efforts to effectively shut down Ukraine’s power generation capabilities with strikes on key infrastructure, as a result of which a significant possibility has emerged that the Ukrainian capital Kiev will need to be completely evacuated.
Podolyak did not comment on whether Ukraine would be the one to carry out the attack on Iran, or whether he had meant for allied Western states to launch the attacks on Kiev’s behalf. His comments notably follow harsh criticisms by the Ukrainian government of Iran’s arch regional rival Israel for its neutral position in the Russian-Ukrainian War, with Kiev accordingly having placed Israeli Finance Ministry Avigdor Lieberman on its Mirotvorets online hit list of “enemies of Ukraine.” Aside from NATO member Turkey, Middle Eastern states have all either taken neutral positions or have supported Russia.
Although Ukraine has received tens of billions of dollars worth of military equipment from Western states, as well as personnel, advisors, and access to NATO satellites and intelligence, Russia is thought to have only received limited support from Iran beginning in September. Foreign material support for Russia could potentially increase in the near future, however, as Western sources indicate that substantial quantities of North Korean artillery rounds and Iranian ballistic missiles will soon further bolster its war effort. While Iran’s defence sector is considered unremarkable in the majority of areas, its ballistic missiles, drones and to a lesser extent air defences remain notable areas of strength. There have so far been no indications that higher end drone and missile models will be supplied to Russia. Russia’s lack of lighter and more expendable ballistic missiles, and its very limited drone fleet, thus may have provided a key opportunity for Iran to earn revenues and expand its export profile.
With a UN arms embargo on Iran having expired in October 2020, Iranian arms exports to UN member states have now been legal for two years. While the lifting of the embargo was initially anticipated to facilitate major Russian arms exports to Iran, the transfer of arms appears to have been overwhelmingly gone from Iran to Russia instead contrary to most expectations. The possibility remains that Russia will seek technology transfers, particularly for drones, to bring forwards its own nascent programs particularly as the current war has highlighted the key importance of such assets.