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For the first time, Iran acknowledges it sent drones to Russia

This undated photograph released by the Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupiansk, Ukraine. Iran has acknowledged for the first time that it sent drones to Russia but says the delivery happened before the invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate via AP
This undated photograph released by the Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Directorate shows the wreckage of what Kyiv has described as an Iranian Shahed drone downed near Kupiansk, Ukraine. Iran has acknowledged for the first time that it sent drones to Russia but says the delivery happened before the invasion of Ukraine.

Updated November 6, 2022 at 5:02 AM ET

KYIV, Ukraine — Iran has acknowledged for the first time that it has provided military drones to Russia, but says only a few were delivered months before the invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to Iran's state-run media, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian downplayed the number of drones that were provided to Russia. He also denied that Iran continues to supply the weapons. "We gave a limited number of drones to Russia months before the Ukraine war," he said.

However, Ukrainian officials say the drones have become a key part of Moscow's arsenal. In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused the Iranians of "lying" in their admission, claiming that it does not reveal the full extent of Iran's involvement.

"We shoot down at least ten Iranian drones every day, yet the Iranian regime claims that it supplied Russia with only a small number of them, and those before the start of the full-scale invasion" he said. "Only during one day yesterday, 11 Shahed drones were destroyed."

Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov added that the drones are regularly used to target civilian areas. He said the weapons from Iran are playing a central role in Russia's assault on power plants and other electrical infrastructure around his country. Ukraine's state electricity operator has advised there will be regular blackouts in the capital and other regions as a result of the ongoing drone and missile strikes.

Reznikov also said that Iran was underplaying its involvement, and that Ukraine has details of contracts which show that Iran agreed to supply Russia with "between 1500 to 2400 drones". He claimed that Ukraine's forces have shot down hundreds of Iranian drones, though some of them still get through and hit their targets.

Russia has alleged that Western nations have turned the conflict into a proxy war by shipping sophisticated missiles and other armaments to Ukraine.

Ukraine has also accused Iran of sending military personnel to Crimea to train Russian troops on how to operate the weapons. Iran denies the claim.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.