The White House confirmed on Thursday that Russia is attacking Ukraine with Iranian drones launched from the occupied Crimean peninsula with the help of Iranian military trainers on the ground.
National Security spokesman John Kirby further expressed concern that Russia would seek to acquire advanced conventional weapons from Tehran as it faces a shortage of military supplies under pressure from Western sanctions.
“We can confirm that Russian military personnel stationed in Crimea piloted Iranian drones [unmanned aerial vehicles], using them to carry out strikes across Ukraine, including strikes against Kiev in just the last few days. We estimate that Iranian military personnel on the ground in Crimea assisted Russia in these operations,” Kirby said.
“There is extensive evidence of their use by Russia against military and civilian targets [in Ukraine]but both Iran and Russia continue to lie about it,” he added.
Kirby said the U.S. could not provide exact numbers on how many Iranians are in Crimea, adding that it was a “relatively small number” but that they were providing technical support while the Russians flew the drones for the attacks.
“Russia has received dozens of drones so far and will likely continue to receive additional shipments in the future,” he said.
He added that the administration is investigating “new sanctions” and that the Defense Department is “actively looking” at potential air defense solutions for the Ukrainians.
Russian attacks by Iranian so-called kamikaze drones have terrorized Ukraine for the past two weeks, with civilian casualties and infrastructure, including residential buildings, energy and water supplies, destroyed by explosive-laden drones.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has advocated for countries to immediately deploy more air defense systems.
The US and NATO said they were working to quickly send more air defense and anti-drone technology to Ukraine, while other air defense systems from Spain and Germany reportedly arrived recently.
But the Ukrainians pushed for more, especially Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense system, which is considered one of the most successful air defense systems in delivering indiscriminate fire.
Israel refused to share the Iron Domea decision Kirby said was their “sovereign” right.
He said the Pentagon is “looking closely at what’s in the realm of the possible,” for Ukraine’s air defenses, “including, as I said earlier, what might be possible from allies and partners.”