Dive-bombing drones deployed by Russia in Ukraine cause death — and diplomatic storms

Firefighters work after a drone attack on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna)

Firefighters arrive at the scene of a drone attack on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine on Monday. (Roman Hrytsyna/Associated Press)

It creeps across the sky and then—when it’s almost too late to take cover—makes a guttural sound like a moped whizzing past. Moments later comes the deadly explosion.

Small, propeller-driven drones were first used last month by Russia in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. But this week they have come to the fore, with dozens deployed daily to bomb Kiev, Dnipro and Mykolaiv, targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and causing blackouts across the country. At least eight people were killed in the strikes, Ukrainian authorities say.

Although their markings are in Russian and Moscow refers to them as Geran-2s, Pentagon officials, Ukrainians and observers say the weapons are Iranian-made Shahed-136s, so-called agile kamikaze drones (because they self-destruct in attack) that can travel thousands of miles before hitting a target.

They came as part of a package comprising thousands of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) imported by Moscow from Tehran earlier this year to replenish its fast-dwindling stockpile of long-range precision missiles. And on Thursday, the White House said the US had evidence that a small number of Iranian troops were “directly employed on the ground” in Russian-controlled Crimea to help launch drones against Ukraine.

Iranian drones are “killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” John Kirby, the White House’s National Security Council coordinator, told a news conference.

Russia and Iran repeatedly deny such allegations. Tehran insists it supports a peaceful resolution to the eight-month conflict and has called on Ukraine to provide evidence of drone deployments.

“We have defense cooperation with Russia, but sending weapons and drones against Ukraine is not our policy,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told European Union foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell in a telephone conversation on Thursday .

Yet at the same time, Western condemnation drew praise from Iran’s military leaders, such as Major General Yahia Rahim Safavi, who said in a speech on Tuesday that Iran’s drones had become so effective that “today we have at a point where 22 countries in the world. demand to purchase drones from Iran”.

A drone approaches for an attack in Kyiv on October 17, 2022.

A drone approaches the target in Kyiv on Monday. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP)

A day later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also appeared to refer to the drones, saying they were “deeds” that “bring honor to our country”.

“When the Iranian drone footage was released a few years ago, they said they were photoshopped. Now they say that Iranian drones are dangerous, why are you selling them or giving them to someone?” Khamenei said, according to a report by the state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency.

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Iranian drones have been used for years in deadly attacks in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – often with little response. But their appearance over Ukraine’s skies and the growing diplomatic storm it has caused highlights how the Russian invasion continues to force governments to confront a Cold War-style calculus that accepts less and less overlap between the West and Russia.

Saudi Arabia violated that equation earlier this month when it pushed through oil production cuts at an OPEC+ meeting, angering the US, which said the move signaled that Riyadh had sided with Moscow and would now have to review the longstanding relationship with the Middle East. ally.

Drone sales have also caused geopolitical upheaval.

Firefighters respond after a Russian attack in Kyiv.

Firefighters react after a Russian attack in Kyiv on Tuesday. Local authorities reported a wave of drone and missile strikes on the country’s capital. (Anadolu Agency)

For Iran, which has had a relatively amicable relationship with Ukraine, fractures first appeared in September when Ukrainian forces began shooting down hundreds of drones, including what it said were Shahed-136s. In response, officials in Kyiv downgraded relations with Tehran, stripping the Iranian ambassador of accreditation and reducing diplomatic staff at the embassy.

This week’s attacks prompted Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to propose cutting diplomatic ties with Iran completely. Tehran’s leaders would “bear the most severe responsibility” if they continue arms sales, Kyiv said, as it called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to send inspectors and examine the wreckage of more than 220 drones on who claims to have destroyed them so far. The arms transfers, the US and Ukraine say, violate UN sanctions against Iran and Security Council Resolution 2231, which is linked to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the landmark 2015 agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

The proposal, publicly backed by several members of the UN Security Council following the body’s closed-door meeting on Wednesday, angered Moscow, whose deputy UN ambassador Dmitri Polyanski later said Guterres’ team “should not exceed the mandate their technical”.

“Iran firmly believes that none of its arms exports, including UAVs, to any country” violates resolution 2231, Iran’s UN representative, Amir Saeid Iravani, said on Wednesday.

A woman arranges flowers outside a house hit by a Russian drone.

A woman arranges flowers outside a house in Kyiv on Wednesday where a couple was killed in a Russian drone strike two days earlier. (Ed Ram/Getty Images)

The threat of further sanctions – on what is already one of the world’s most heavily sanctioned nations – comes at a difficult time for Iran, which has been rocked by weeks of protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody morality. police. These demonstrations have become an expression of wider grievances, including what many see as the government’s intransigence in negotiations that could provide relief from sanctions. Meanwhile, opinion polls show that the Iranian public does not view Russia favorably and considers the invasion of Ukraine illegitimate.

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Iran is unlikely to accept punishment in the name of supporting Moscow. And before the drone sales, trade between the two countries was $4 billion, hardly worth the financial hit from more sanctions.

Still, it’s a calculation Tehran seems willing to make, said Ali Vaez, who directs the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, even at the cost of destroying the nuclear deal entirely.

“There is the view: Why should Russia abandon it at the time of need, when even if the JCPOA is restored, they are completely disappointed in its effectiveness and the durability of the sanctions relief it provides?”

“The strategic priority for Iran to prevent Russian failure in the Ukraine conflict is greater than restoring the JCPOA.”

Another Middle Eastern power facing a balancing act with conflicting UAV sales is Turkey. Its Bayraktar TB2 drones – a medium-sized aircraft that can launch missiles – have clashed with Russian armor and Russian-aligned fighters in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh in past years. Now in Ukraine, they are hunting Russian troops, with Kiev deploying the dozens of TB2s it has acquired to such great effect that Ukrainians have dedicated a song to the drone’s battlefield prowess.

At the same time, Russia is a vital economic trading partner: it supplies almost half of Turkey’s natural gas and almost three-quarters of its wheat. About 4.7 million Russian travelers visit Turkey every year.

Diplomatically, Turkey has taken action: it condemned the invasion, but still refused to impose sanctions and continues to host Russian oligarchs and other visitors. He also worked on an agreement that allowed grain shipments to leave Ukrainian ports despite the Russian maritime blockade.

Although Russia has complained to Turkey about the Bayraktar TB2 sales, Ankara has insisted that Kiev bought the drones in a private capacity and did not constitute an agreement between the two governments. For now, Moscow seems to have been calmed: Baykar, the company that makes the TB2, continues to sell them to Ukraine, even as Ankara says it can act as an intermediary between Moscow and the West.

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The knock-on effects of alleged Iranian drone strikes have also hit Israel, a top US ally with strong ties to Russia.

About 15% of Israel’s population (about 1.3 million people) are Russian-speaking immigrants, with more Russian immigrants arriving up to a month due to the war in Ukraine, according to Israeli government statistics.

Israel is also working with Moscow to coordinate military maneuvers in Syria, where Russia has bolstered forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad since 2019, while turning a blind eye to Israeli strikes on Syrian territory on what it says are targets affiliated with Iran, Israel’s regional nemesis.

And the Israelis have previously exported UAV technology and components to Moscow, including two surveillance drones deployed by the Russian military, Zastava and Forpost, licensed copies of Israeli-built platforms, according to a report by Conflict Armament Research.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Israel did not join the US and European Union economic sanctions, but sent Ukraine humanitarian aid – including helmets and bulletproof vests for rescue teams. Fearful of overshadowing Russia, it has so far refrained from offering military assistance to Kiev, despite repeated pleas. But with his archenemy now embroiled in the conflict, his position seems increasingly untenable.

This week, an Israeli lawmaker called on the government to reverse its position. That appeared to bring a response from former Russian president and top Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev, who warned on Monday that arming Ukraine would be “a very reckless step” that would “destroy the intergovernmental relations between our countries.”

A day later, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba reiterated a long-standing demand that Israel “urgently supply … anti-aircraft systems and begin high-quality cooperation on obtaining appropriate technologies for Ukraine.” “Iran is a red line for Israel, and after Iran has become directly, in fact, complicit in the crime of aggression against Ukraine, I think that anyone in Israel who has any hesitation about whether or not to help Ukraine needs to dispel these. hesitations,” said Kuleba.

But Israel again refused.

“Israel will not deliver weapons systems to Ukraine due to a variety of operational considerations,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said during a meeting with EU ambassadors in Tel Aviv, adding that Israel would continue to support Ukraine “within our limits.” .

However, it is simply not enough, said Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk.

“You can’t win the war with air defense warning systems. We asked for defensive weapons and they have all our requests and they have not responded,” he said in a CNN interview on Wednesday. “It’s like going to the market and asking someone for bread and instead of bread they give you a spoon.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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