British and US intelligence says the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is on the ground in Crimea, supporting Russian drone attacks on Ukraine.
America’s National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Iran had sent personnel to assist Vladimir Putin‘s troops in launching Iranian-made drones on Ukraine’s power stations and other key infrastructure.
This includes members of a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – one of the most powerful paramilitary organisations in the Middle East – according to UK government reports.
The Intelligence finding comes as US President Joe Biden seeks to mount international pressure on Tehran to pull back from helping Russia.
Moscow, in recent days, has increasingly turned to the Iranian-supplied drones, as well as its own Kalibr and Iskander cruise missiles, to carry out a barrage of attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure and non-military targets.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week Russian forces have destroyed 30% of Ukraine’s power stations since 10 October.
“The information we have is that the Iranians have put trainers and tech support in Crimea, but it’s the Russians who are doing the piloting,” Mr Kirby said.
He added the Biden administration was looking at imposing new sanctions on Tehran and would look for ways to make it harder for Iran to sell such weapons to Russia.
Crimea is a part of Ukraine unilaterally annexed by Russia in contravention of international law in 2014.
The US first revealed this summer Russia was purchasing Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles to launch against Ukraine, something Iran has denied.
White House officials say international sanctions, including export controls, have made it difficult for Russians to restock ammunition and precision-guided munition stocks that have been depleted during the nearly eight-month-old war.
As a result, Russia has been forced to turn to Iran as well as North Korea for weaponry.
US officials believe Iran may have deployed military personnel to assist the Russians, in part because of their lack of familiarity with the Iranian-made drones.
Declassified US intelligence findings showed Russians faced technical problems with the drones soon after taking delivery of them in August.
The Biden administration released the details about Iran’s involvement in assisting Russia’s war at a sensitive moment – just days after new sanctions were levied against Iran over the brutal crackdown on anti-government protests spurred by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in Iranian security custody.
Morality police had detained Amini last month for not properly covering her hair with the Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women. Amini collapsed at a police station and died three days later.
The UK has also announced new sanctions on Iranian officials and businesses accused of supplying the drones.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “These cowardly drone strikes are an act of desperation. By enabling these strikes, these individuals and a manufacturer have caused the people of Ukraine untold suffering.
“We will ensure that they are held to account for their actions.”
‘Large scale disaster’
Meanwhile, President Zelenskyy fears Russians are planning to attack the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant next.
And he called on the world to move quickly to prevent a disaster.
“According to our information, the aggregates and dam of the Kakhovka HPP were mined by Russian terrorists,” he said in his nightly address to his nation.
“Now everyone in the world must act powerfully and quickly to prevent a new Russian terrorist attack. Destroying the dam would mean a large-scale disaster.”