First account of Russia using Iranian-supplied drone in Ukraine appears online

Ukrainian military have shared the first images of what it claims to be the wreckage of an Iranian-made loitering munitions used in Ukraine. The images, which were first published by a Twitter account belonging to a Ukrainian officer named Maxim, appear to confirm earlier reports that Russia had purchased the drones from Tehran.  

The photographs show fragments of what appears to be the tail section of a Shahed-136 loitering munition. According to Twitter post, the images were taken in Ukraine’s Kupyansk region.

An exact match  

Kupyansk, an important railway junction situated on the Oskil River, was one of the points Russian forces retreated to following Ukraine’s counteroffensive which began on September 6, 2022. Much of Kupyansk was recaptured by Ukrainian forces on September 10, with heavy battles waging across the city ever since.  

Features in the photographs appear to almost match perfectly the Iranian Shahed-136, and the drone’s distinct tail shape can clearly be seen in the images. The fragments are also inscribed with “M214 Geran-2” in Cyrillic. While the name does not correspond to any known Russian-made aircraft, it could be the Russian designation of the drone which was imported or manufactured under license.

The Shahed-136, first revealed in 2021, is one of several drone designs manufactured by Iran and exported in recent years. It is a loitering munition, designed to self-destruct upon impacting the target.   

According to a number of reports, it is designed with swarming capability in mind, meaning that multiple drones can attack a target overwhelming the opponent’s air defenses.  

While Ukrainian media claims that the drone pictured has been shot down, it remains unclear if the fragments are the result of a successful interception or if the drone’s ordinance exploded after hitting its target.  

Iran’s support  

There have been multiple reports of Russia receiving reconnaissance and combat drones from Iran to supplement its capabilities in Ukraine. In early July 2022, US intelligence officials claimed that the two countries were negotiating deliveries amid reports that Russia is running out of its own high-precision weapons.

By August 2022 the first drone shipments had reportedly arrived and Russian military had commenced training on the drones. However, according to US officials, Russia faced technical problems with the drones due poor quality, leading to failures during testing.  

On September 9, the US imposed additional sanctions on several Iranian companies accused of supplying Russia with Iranian-made drones.  

Cooperation between Iran and Russia greatly increased following the start of full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with the two countries reportedly signing agreements to cooperate in both civilian and military aerospace sectors. Russia admitted to using Iran’s experience to circumvent international sanctions.  

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