July 11 (BP) — The United States believes Iran is seeking to provide Russia with hundreds of battle drones for its invasion of Ukraine, a top White House official said Monday.
U.S. intelligence indicates the Iranian government is “preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], including weapons-capable UAVs, on an expedited timeline,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at a White House briefing.
Sullivan said it’s unclear if the drones have been delivered yet but added the Iranians have also agreed to train Russian forces in their use, with initial training sessions “slated to begin as soon as early July.”
The White House adviser said the drones are similar to the kind used in the recent past by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen to attack Saudi Arabia.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels, for instance, claimed in November they used 14 drones to strike targets in Saudi Arabia including Aramco oil refineries and King Abdullah airport in Jeddah.
The Kremlin is turning to Iran for weaponry because its grinding battles for territory in eastern Ukraine are depleting its resources, Sullivan said.
The months-long effort to conquer the Donbas region has come with “severe costs that Russia has had to endure on the battlefield,” he said, adding that the drones are “just one example of how Russia is looking to countries like Iran for capabilities that are also being used … to attack Saudi Arabia.”
From the American perspective, “we will continue to do our part to help sustain the effective defense of Ukraine and to help the Ukrainians show that the Russian effort to try to wipe Ukraine off the map cannot succeed,” Sullivan added.
He made the comments as President Joe Biden prepared to depart later this week for a three-day visit to the Middle East, with stops in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Saudi Arabia to attend the “GCC+3” summit of Arab nations.
Biden is expected to discuss Iran’s nuclear program during the trip.