(Bloomberg) -- Russia is importing supplies from Iran for a domestic factory that would manufacture Iranian-designed drones for the war in Ukraine, the White House said Friday, releasing intelligence findings in what it described as an escalating military collaboration between the two countries.
The drone plant “could be fully operational” in early 2024, probably in an industrial area about 650 miles (1,040 kilometers) east of Moscow, according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who shared US government satellite images of two buildings in Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone, which is in Tatarstan.
“Russia has been using Iranian UAVs in recent weeks to strike Kyiv and terrorize the Ukrainian population,” Kirby said in a statement, using the abbreviation for unmanned aerial vehicles, “and the Russia-Iran military partnership appears to be deepening.”
Tehran has repeatedly denied shipping drones to Russia since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
President Joe Biden’s administration shared newly declassified intelligence that it says shows Iran is using the Caspian Sea shipping route to send its drones from the Iranian port at Amirabad via Russian ships to Makhachkala, Russia.
From there, the drones move by ground transportation to airports at Seshcha and Primorsko-Akhtarsk, then on to Russian armed forces, US officials said.
Russia has increasingly turned to drones as a cheaper means than missiles to try to weaken infrastructure across Ukraine, according to Western officials, though most were shot down by the country’s air defenses.
Air defense munitions will be a central part of a new $2 billion arms package for Ukraine that the Pentagon will announce as soon as Friday, according to people familiar with the matter. The package includes two types of advanced Patriot air defense missiles to aid in the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which military analysts say is now underway.
A new US government advisory meant to help companies and other governments avoid contributing to Iran’s pilotless aircraft program was issued Friday by the Treasury Department.
It said Iran relies on foreign procurement to obtain items it can’t produce domestically, often preferring U.S.-origin technologies.
“Most notably, Iran relies on certain U.S.-branded items such as field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), RF transceivers, microcontrollers, and capacitors,” Treasury said. “Some of these are low-technology items and may not be included on the Commerce Control List.”
The Biden administration has tried to break up the trade network that’s allowed Iran, which already faces comprehensive US sanctions, to produce the drones. So far, however, it has been largely unable to stem the flow of parts to Iran.
--With assistance from John Harney.
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