10 Dec 2022

Ukraine war: US says Iran now Russia's 'top military backer'

7:05 pm on 10 December 2022
DONETSK OBLAST, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 28: A Ukrainian soldier tries to warm up on the frontline, in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on November 28, 2022. As the war between Russia and Ukraine continues, rainy and cold weather conditions create difficulties for the soldiers in Donetsk Oblast, where the most intense conflicts take place. Metin Aktas / Anadolu Agency (Photo by Metin Aktas / ANADOLU AGENCY / Anadolu Agency via AFP)

A Ukrainian soldier tries to warm up on the frontline, in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on 28 November. Photo: METIN AKTAS

By Elsa Maishman & Sam Hancock

Russia and Iran's relationship has warmed to a fully fledged defence partnership, the US has said.

Russia was giving an unprecedented level of military support, US national security council spokesman John Kirby said.

The US has seen reports that the two countries were considering joint production of lethal drones, he added.

Australia has announced it was sanctioning three Iranians and one Iranian business for supplying Russia with drones to use against Ukraine.

Co-operation between Russia and Iran has been highlighted recently, with Ukraine accusing Russia of using Iranian drones in its attacks.

After initially denying sending any drones to Russia, the Middle Eastern country later admitted it had supplied some before the invasion of Ukraine.

Kirby said that a partnership between Iran and Russia to produce drones would be harmful to Ukraine, Iran's neighbours and the international community.

"Russia is seeking to collaborate with Iran in areas like weapons development, training," he said, adding that the US fears that Russia intended to "provide Iran with advanced military components" including helicopters and air defence systems.

"Iran has become Russia's top military backer..." he said.

"Russia's been using Iranian drones to strike energy infrastructure, depriving millions of Ukrainians of power, heat, critical services. People in Ukraine today are actually dying as a result of Iran's actions."

In response to Kirby's comments, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that Iran had become one of Russia's main military supporters and that the relationship between them was threatening global security.

The "sordid deals" between the two countries have seen Iran send hundreds of drones to Russia, he said.

"In return, Russia is offering military and technical support to the Iranian regime, which will increase the risk it poses to our partners in the Middle East and to international security," he added.

He said the UK agreed with the US that Iranian support for the Russian military would grow in the coming months as Russia tried to get hold of more weapons, including hundreds of ballistic missiles.

Ukraine accused Iran of supplying Russia with "kamikaze" drones used in a series of attacks which killed at least eight people on 17 October.

After denying this, Iran later admitted sending a "limited number" of drones to Russia, "many months" before the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said this was a lie and that Ukraine was shooting down about 10 Iranian drones a day.

On Saturday, Penny Wong, Australia's foreign minister, said in a statement: "The supply of drones to Russia is evidence of the role Iran plays in destabilising global security. This listing highlights that those who provide material support to Russia will face consequences."

She also announced measures for 19 other people and two entities, including Iran's Morality Police, for the brutal treatment of anti-government protestors following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody earlier this year.

In other developments:

- Russia has turned the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut into "burnt ruins", President Zelensky says, following months of deadly fighting in the eastern Donbas region

- The United Nations says Belarus will allow the transit of Ukrainian grain through its territory for export from Lithuanian ports

- The head of a Ukrainian human rights organisation that was jointly awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize - Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Centre for Civil Liberties - has called on nations to set up an international tribunal to try Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia's war in Ukraine

- The International Olympic Committee says it will explore a proposal to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in sporting events in Asia - despite an international ban


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