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Human Rights

Iran sent trainers to teach Russians how to use its kamikaze drones in Ukraine

Some argue this has directly involved Tehran in operations that have killed and injured civilians.

Man operating a drone with remote control. Dark silhouette against colorful sunset.
Man operating a drone with remote control. Dark silhouette against colorful sunset. | Shutterstock

October 19, 2022 5:35pm

Updated: February 19, 2023 10:45am

Iranian military advisors and trainers are on-the-ground in occupied Ukraine helping Russians with the drones they purchased from Tehran, according to military officials.

Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary wing designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., are operating from a Russian base in Crimea, reports the New York Times. They fulfill a support role far from the front lines, teaching soldiers how to fly Iranian drones and troubleshooting any technical issues.

The increasingly isolated Vladimir Putin had turned to sanctioned states like North Korea and Iran to restock on munitions, according to the Evening Standard in September.

Among his purchases is the Shahed-136, a one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicle with an explosive warhead that have been used in recent attacks against Kyiv. With a claimed range of 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles), they are classified as “loitering munitions” because of their ability to stay airborne until a target enters its patrol area.

Moscow had originally sent personnel to Iran for training on their use, but Tehran decided to send trainers over instead after continued errors by Russian operators.

One former defense official argued that Iran’s participation made them culpable in any actions committed by the Russian military with its weapons.

“Sending drones and trainers to Ukraine has enmeshed Iran deeply into the war on the Russian side and involved Tehran directly in operations that have killed and injured civilians,” Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official and retired C.I.A. officer told the New York Times.

“Even if they’re just trainers and tactical advisers in Ukraine, I think that’s substantial,” Mr. Mulroy said. The United Nations’ human rights body has said that deliberate strikes on such civilian targets could constitute war crimes.

Tehran’s deployment of drone trainers had also been reported by the UK’s Mirror last week, who said up to 50 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specialists had been sent to aid Moscow’s forces in Ukraine.

An Iranian official at the United Nations responded to the New York Times story saying, “Iran does not confirm this claim and rejects it.”