The White House on Thursday confirmed that Russia is attacking Ukraine with Iranian drones launched from the occupied Crimean Peninsula with on-the-ground assistance from military trainers from Iran.
National Security spokesperson John Kirby further raised concern that Russia will seek to acquire advanced conventional weapons from Tehran as it faces military supply shortages under pressure from Western sanctions.
“We can confirm that Russia’s military personnel that are based in Crimea have been piloting Iranian UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], using them to conduct strikes across Ukraine, including strikes against Kyiv in just recent days. We assess that Iranian military personnel on the ground in Crimea assisted Russia in these operations,” Kirby said.
“There’s extensive proof of their use by Russia against both military and civilian targets [in Ukraine], yet both Iran and Russia continue to lie about it,” he added.
Kirby said that the U.S. cannot offer exact numbers on how many Iranians are in Crimea, adding that it’s a “relatively small number” but that they are providing tech support while the Russians pilot the UAVs for attacks.
“Russia has received dozens of UAVs so far, and will likely continue to receive additional shipments in the future,” he said.
He added that the administration is exploring “new sanctions” and that the Department of Defense is “looking actively” at potential air defense solutions for the Ukrainians.
Russian attacks with Iranian so-called kamikaze drones have terrorized Ukraine over the past two weeks, with civilian casualties and infrastructure, including residential buildings, energy and water supplies, destroyed by the explosive-laden drones.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded for supporting countries to send more air defense systems immediately.
The U.S. and NATO said they are working to quickly send more air defenses and anti-drone technology to Ukraine, while other air defense systems from Spain and Germany are said to have recently arrived.
But the Ukrainians have pleaded for more, in particular to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense system, which is considered one of the most successful air defense systems at targeting indiscriminate fire.
Israel has rejected sharing the Iron Dome, a decision that Kirby said was their “sovereign” right.
He said the Pentagon is “looking hard at what what’s in the realm of the possible,” for air defenses for Ukraine, “including, as I said earlier, what could be possible from allies and partners.”