By Enyichukwu Enemanna
For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine in January, Iran on Saturday acknowledged that it had supplied Moscow with drones but said they were sent before the war in Ukraine.
Russia has been criticised for using the drones to target power stations and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said a “small number” of drones had been shipped a few months before Russia’s Feb 24 invasion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Tehran of lying, saying Kyiv’s forces were downing at least 10 of the unmanned aerial vehicles every day.
In Iran’s most detailed response to date, Amirabdollahian denied Tehran was continuing to supply drones to Moscow.
“This fuss made by some Western countries that Iran has provided missiles and drones to Russia to help the war in Ukraine – the missile part is completely wrong,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
“The drone part is true and we provided Russia a small number of drones months before the Ukraine war,” he said.
In recent weeks Ukraine has reported a surge in drone attacks on civilian infrastructure, notably targeting power stations and dams, using Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones. Russia denies its forces have used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine.
In a video address, Zelenskyy dismissed talk of limited Iranian supplies to Russia, saying Ukraine had downed 11 drones on Friday alone.
“If Iran continues to lie about the obvious, it means the world will make even more efforts to investigate the terrorist cooperation between the Russian and Iranian regimes and what Russia pays Iran for such cooperation,” he said.
Separately, US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley tweeted it was untrue that Iran had sent a few drones.
“They transferred dozens just this summer and have military personnel in occupied Ukraine helping Russia use them,” he said.
Zelenskyy, who has repeatedly pressed allies to provide more defenses against aircraft and missiles, said he expected “good news” in coming weeks but gave no details. Kyiv, he added, would next week launch a fund-raising campaign to buy marine drones.