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IRANIAN INTERFERENCE IN UKRAINE

Alberto Suárez Sutil, Elizabeth Leoce, Giorgio Tiberio, CENTCOM; Peter Roberto, EUCOM; Isaiah Johnson, Martina Sclaverano, Yannik Hunold, W/T

Deepankar Patil, Editor; Claudia Santillan-Vazquez, Editor; Argyrios Chatziilias, Editor; Manja Vitasovic, Senior Editor

October 30, 2022

Vladimir Putin with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a state visit to Tehran[1]


Geographical Area | Ukraine

Countries Affected | Ukraine, Russia, Iran


Iran sent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisors to Russian-occupied Crimea to instruct Russia on how to fly and maintain Iranian-made drones.[2] Russia already launched Iranian Shahed-136 suicide drones targeting energy installations and civilian buildings in Kyiv.[3] Iran will very likely continue sending the IRGC to Russian-occupied Crimea, likely to strengthen its strategic partnership with Russia. Strengthened Iran-Russia ties will likely cause concern for NATO and the EU. Russia will likely use Iranian drones in lieu of its missile and airplane arsenal, almost certainly conducting more drone strikes on Ukrainian military and civilian infrastructure.


Areas of High-Security Concern: Russian losses in Ukraine will likely lead to increased Iranian involvement, through sales and advice on the use of drones in the wider Russian military strategy, likely to minimize Russian casualties on the ground. Iran will likely help improve the targeting capabilities of Russian-controlled Iranian drones, almost certainly resulting in more Ukrainian casualties. The Russian military will very likely target Ukrainian energy infrastructure as the winter progresses, likely resulting in limited civilian access to heating. There is a roughly even chance Iran will act as an observer state between Russia and Ukraine due to the growing Iranian desire to cooperate with Russia in exchange for military and diplomatic support against the US.[4]

Current Claims: Ukraine; Russia; Iran; Israel; International Rescue Committee (IRC); NATO; EU

Groups Involved in Conflict: Russian forces; Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Forces (IRGC); Iranian diplomats; Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Current Conflicts: Iran has provided drones to Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. The IRGC has been training Russian forces on how to operate the drones,[5] which Russia has used to target Ukrainian infrastructure.[6]

Major Capital Industries: Iranian defense industry; Ukrainian energy industry; humanitarian organizations

Potential Industry Concerns: Russia’s use of Iranian “suicide drones”[7] in Ukraine will very likely result in an increase in attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. The attacks will likely lead to inadequate heating for Ukrainian civilians, likely requiring humanitarian organizations like the IRC to provide improvised heating supplies, and will almost certainly experience difficulties distributing resources to contested areas like Kherson and Luhansk. Targeted attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure will almost certainly increase Ukraine’s reliance on international actors like the US and NATO for arms and weapons systems. The Iranian drone manufacturing and defense industries will almost certainly be bolstered due to their use by Russia. The successful use of Iranian drones in Ukraine will likely lead to an increase in demand.


Areas of Caution:

  • Geopolitical: Tehran and Moscow are strategic partners, whose relationship is strengthened due to their joint military actions backing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and joint free trade agreements in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).[8] Amid high oil prices and sanctions, Iran continues to offer Russia support, demonstrating cooperation against western countries. Iran’s involvement in eastern Europe demonstrates a growing alliance with Russia that threatens US interests in eastern Europe, which has soldiers stationed at bases throughout the region.[9] The Iranian influence will likely lead to the involvement of nations opposing Iran, like Israel, that previously refrained from active participation in the conflict.[10] Iran’s increased involvement in Ukraine could further appeal to disenfranchised Muslim minorities in Russia, who face religious and ethnic discrimination from ethnic Russian members of the military.[11]

  • Military: IRGC advisors are allegedly instructing the Russian military on how to fly Iranian drones.[12] Russia has used Shahed-136, Shahed-129, and Mohajer-6 drones in the Ukrainian conflict, all produced by Iran.[13] The Shahed-136 was put into service in 2021, carries one explosive, and has a range of 2000 kilometers.[14] Russia has offensively deployed drones from Crimea to target infrastructure in Kyiv, and in intelligence roles across Ukraine.[15] A major competitor of Iranian drone production is Israel, which is one of the biggest drone exporters and which has been targeting and attacking Iranian drone factories.[16]

Part of Iranian Shahed-136 that was shot down near Kupyansk, Kharkiv[17]


  • Infrastructure: Russian forces have used the Iran-made drones provided to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.[18] Russia has also used missiles for this purpose, damaging approximately 30% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure so far.[19] The Ukrainian energy industry has been providing electricity to the EU since July but stopped exporting electricity in October 2022 due to Russian missile strikes.[20]


Predictive Analysis:

  • Who: Iranian experts will very likely arrive in other Russian-controlled Ukrainian regions, like Luhansk or Kherson, to provide tactical support to the Russian army. There is a roughly even chance that IRGC advisors captured in Ukraine will be held as prisoners of war and used as political leverage in negotiations with Iran. NATO member states will very likely provide additional logistic and diplomatic support to Ukraine to de-escalate the threat.

  • What: Iranian involvement will likely escalate the intensity of the war, very likely delaying the peace negotiations process. Continued deployment of Iranian military advisors who provide Russia with operational intelligence will likely encourage Russia to use the drones continuously, with a roughly even chance of Iran establishing an advisory presence with Russian forces for the remainder of the conflict. Iranian influence in Ukraine will very likely lead to Israel breaking its neutrality to counter Iran, with a roughly even chance that Israel will provide Ukraine with its drone detection systems to mitigate further drone attacks. The EU and the US will very likely send specialized anti-drone weapons to the Ukrainian government to counter the Shahed-136.

  • Why: Russia will likely strengthen its territorial control over the Kherson, Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia regions by using Iranian drones to slow Ukrainian troop advances and interrupt the Ukrainian supply chain. Drones will very likely target concentrated Ukrainian forces. Using drones will likely decrease Russian military losses, as soldiers can use drones to target Ukrainian forces without being on the battlefield. This will almost certainly delay peace processes, as Russian military resources will very likely deplete less quickly, likely extending Russia’s ability to participate in combat. Iranian interference in the conflict will very likely increase victims and material damage, likely severely escalating tensions between NATO, Russia, and Iran.

  • When: Iran will very likely continue to send military advisors to support Russian drone operations in Crimea in the short term. Iran will very likely provide technical drone manufacturing assistance to the Russian military in the long term. Iran will very likely continue to support Russia until the end of the conflict regardless of its losses, which is very likely an attempt to gain concessions in the ongoing nuclear talks.

  • How: The involvement of Iran in Ukraine will very likely increase the effectiveness of Russian drone bombardments thus likely extending the conflict. Iranian entrance into the conflict is likely to incite an anti-Iranian or anti-Muslim response from Ukrainian citizens. There is a roughly even chance that anti-Muslim organizations will try to exploit this negative response to recruit them as fighters.


The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) EUCOM, W/T, and CENTCOM Teams recommend that the US and NATO continue to provide anti-drone systems to the Ukrainian military as a defensive measure. Drone monitoring and drone-countering measures should be implemented to protect energy infrastructure. Drone-monitoring equipment includes radio frequency analyzers, acoustic and optical sensors, and radars. Countermeasures to engage the drones should comprise radio frequency jammers, GPS spoofers, and High Power Microwave devices. CTG recommends the Ukrainian military camouflage key military assets, like ammunition depots and command centers, which Russia will very likely seek to target through Iranian UAVs. The US and NATO should also provide Farsi-speaking analysts and teach Farsi to Ukrainian intelligence analysts. This will enable Ukrainian intelligence analysts to better identify IRGC military advisors present in Crimea. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes, and Hazards (WATCH) Officers will monitor ongoing developments in Ukraine, including Iran’s military assistance.


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[1]Vladimir Putin with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a state visit to Tehran” by Unknown licensed under Creative Commons

[2] US: Iranian troops in Crimea backing Russian drone strikes, The Associated Press, October 2022

https://apnews.com/article/government-and-politics-8b085070758120c31d421f68a65e4b14

[3] Suicide drones strike fear in Ukraine`s capital, killing 4, The Associated Press, October 2022

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-kyiv-social-media-0cc944fef471a425a862728b3dd0d8bc

[4]Iran Is Now At War With Ukraine

https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/10/26/iran-ukraine-russia-war-drones-missiles-military-advisors-middle-east-nuclear/

[5] US: Iranian troops in Crimea backing Russian drone strikes, AP News, October 2022 https://apnews.com/article/government-and-politics-8b085070758120c31d421f68a65e4b14

[6] Russia hits Ukraine’s capital with wave of "kamikaze" drones, NBC News, October 2022 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/kyiv-new-attack-kamikaze-drones-ukraine-says-rcna52496

[7] Shahed 136 "Kamikaze" Drone Caught Seconds Before Hitting Target In Ukraine https://theaviationist.com/2022/10/17/shahed-136-kamikaze-drone-photo/

[8] Kyiv’s Iranian diaspora condemns drones and state repression, Open Democracy, October 2022

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/kyivs-iranian-diaspora-condemns-iran-drones-repression/

[9] Explainer: Iran and Russia's growing drone alliance amid Western outcry, Reuters, October 2022

https://www.reuters.com/world/iran-russias-growing-drone-alliance-amid-western-outcry-2022-10-19/

[10] Russia’s Iranian drones complicate Israel’s balancing act, Reuters, October 2022

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-iran-kyiv-europe-moscow-fa2086d6feeaca20a61d66efd2ddb69b

[11] Fatal shooting at Russian military base raises questions, Le Monde, October 2022 https://www.lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2022/10/17/fatal-shooting-at-russian-military-base-raises-questions_6000721_4.html

[12] Iran Sends Drone Trainers to Crimea to aid Russian Military, The New York Times, October 2022

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/18/us/politics/iran-drones-russia-ukraine.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare

[13] Iranian ‘suicide’ drones: Russia`s new favorite weapon in Ukraine War, El Pais, October 2022

https://english.elpais.com/international/2022-10-12/iranian-suicide-drones-russias-new-favorite-weapon-in-ukraine-war.html

[14] HESA Shahed-136, MilitaryFactory, September 2021 https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.php?aircraft_id=2520

[15] Explainer: What are the 'kamikaze drones' Russia is using in Ukraine?, Reuters, October 2022

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/kamikaze-drones-what-are-weapons-russia-is-using-ukraine-2022-10-18/

[16] Iran-Israel Drone Competition and the Changing Nature of Warfare in the Middle East, Arab Center, October 2022

https://arabcenterdc.org/resource/iran-israel-drone-competition-and-the-changing-nature-of-warfare-in-the-middle-east/

[17]Part of Iranian Shahed-136 that was shot down near Kupiansk, Kharkiv” by Mil.gov.usa licensed under Creative Commons

[18] Explainer: What are the "kamikaze drones" Russia is using in Ukraine?, Reuters, October 2022

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/kamikaze-drones-what-are-weapons-russia-is-using-ukraine-2022-10-18/

[19] Russian attacks have damaged at least 30% of Ukraine's energy infrastructure, NPR, October 2022

https://www.npr.org/2022/10/18/1129735976/russian-attacks-have-damaged-at-least-30-of-ukraines-energy-infrastructure

[20] Ukrainian energy ministry halts electricity exports due to Russian missile strikes, Reuters, October 2022

https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/ukrainian-energy-ministry-halts-energy-exports-due-russian-missile-strikes-2022-10-10/


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