U.S. says Iranian troops “directly engaged” in Crimea, backing Russian drone strikes

Washington – The White House said Thursday that the US has evidence that Iranian troops are supporting “right on the ground” in Crimea Russian drone strikes on the infrastructure and civilian population of Ukraine.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Iran has deployed a “relatively small number” of personnel to Crimea, part of Ukraine attached unilaterally by Russia in 2014, in violation of international law, to help Russian troops launch Iranian drones against Ukraine.

According to a British government statement, members of a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have been dispatched to help Russian forces use the drones.

“The information we have is that the Iranians have sent trainers and technical support to Crimea, but it’s the Russians who are taking over the pilots,” Kirby said.

He added that the Biden administration is considering new sanctions against Tehran and looking at ways to make it more difficult for Tehran to sell such weapons to Russia.

The US first revealed this summer that Russia was buying Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles to launch against Ukraine. in one controversial closed-door UN Security Council meeting Late Wednesday, the US, Britain and France accused Iran of selling drones to Russia, in violation of a UN Security Council ban on their transfer. Iran and Russia both denied selling the munitions.

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US officials believe Iran may have sent military personnel to help the Russians, in part due to Russians’ unfamiliarity with Iranian-made drones. Declassified intelligence by US intelligence showed that the Russians had technical problems with the Iranian drones shortly after the weapons were delivered in August.

“The systems themselves suffered from failures and didn’t perform to the standards that customers obviously expected,” Kirby said. “So the Iranians decided to bring in some trainers and technical support to help the Russians use them with better lethality.”

The Biden administration released more details about Iran’s involvement in supporting the Russian war in Ukraine at a sensitive moment. The administration raised new sanctions against Iran over the government’s crackdown on anti-government protests in recent weeks, spurred by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in Iranian security custody.

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Morality police arrested Amini last month for failing to properly cover her hair in the Islamic headscarf known as hijab, which is mandatory for Iranian women. Amini collapsed at a police station and died three days later.

Her death and the riots that followed came as the administration attempted to bring Iran back into compliance with the nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration and scrapped by the Trump administration.

But Kirby said the government had little hope of reviving the Iran nuclear deal anytime soon.

“We’re not focused on diplomacy at this point,” Kirby said. “We are focused on making sure we hold the regime accountable for how it treats and supports peaceful protesters in their country.”

The White House spoke out about Iran’s aid to Russia as Britain on Thursday announced new sanctions against Iranian officials and companies as the Russians use the drones to bomb civilian infrastructure.

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“These cowardly drone attacks are an act of desperation,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement. “By facilitating these strikes, these individuals and a manufacturer have caused untold suffering to the people of Ukraine. We will make sure they are held accountable for their actions.”

Among those hit by the British with asset freezes and travel bans were Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, chairman of the Armed Forces General Staff, which oversees the army branches that supply drones to Russia; Brigadier General Seyed Hojjatollah Qureishi, a key Iranian negotiator in the deal. and Brigadier General Saeed Aghajani, the head of the UAV Command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Forces.

Shahed Aviation Industries, the Iranian maker of the drones used by Russia, was also hit by an asset freeze.

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