Members of the Iranian military are on the ground in Crimea training Russian troops to operate Iranian kamikaze drones, according to the White House.
“We do assess Iranians have been on the ground to assist Russia with drone operations,” in the Russian-annexed territory of Crimea, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Thursday, although Iran has denied the claim, The Associated Press reported.
The so-called “kamikaze drones” sourced from Iran have pummeled Ukraine’s energy and civilian infrastructure in recent days, leading to blackouts and civilian deaths, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“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,” Kirby said, according to the AP.
Iran’s representative to the U.N. called the accusations that Tehran supplied a fleet of suicide drones as “unfounded and unsubstantiated,” Wednesday, CNBC reported.
The U.S. revealed in July it had indications Iran was preparing to ship hundreds of Shahed loitering munitions to Russia. The weapons strike by diving into their targets and burning up, earning the moniker of “suicide” or “kamikaze” drones.
However, declassified U.S. intelligence in August suggested the Russians initially struggled to operate the weapons, possibly leading to a deployment of Iranian troops for training and support, the AP reported.
“So the Iranians decided to move in some trainers and some technical support to help the Russians use them with better lethality,” Kirby said, according to the AP.
“Russia is primarily using drones as psychological weapons,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said, according to Voice of America. “Their effect “doesn’t change the fact that Russian forces on the ground continue to lose territory.”
“Iran continues to be explicit Russia in “exporting terror,” Ryder added.
The White House pledged to continue enforcing existing U.S. sanctions on the Iranian and Russian arms trade but did not specify whether new sanctions would be levied, according to the New York Post.
European Union officials sanctioned Shahed Aviation Industries and three Iranian generals for their links to Iran’s drone program on Thursday, the AP reported.
The move “is a signal of the EU’s resolve to respond swiftly and decisively to Iran’s actions supporting Russian aggression against Ukraine,” the organization said in a statement, according to the AP. “The EU condemns the delivery of Iranian drones to Russia and their deadly deployment in the war of aggression against Ukraine.