Ukraine Situation Report: Iran’s Barter Of Military Assistance To Russia Grows Deeper

Military cooperation between Moscow and Tehran is growing, which is bad news for Ukraine, says the National Security Council.

byHoward Altman|
Russia and Iran are working together against Ukraine.
(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)


Iran, which has already shipped Russia hundreds of drones for use against Ukraine's critical infrastructure, stepped up its support this fall, sending artillery and tank rounds to Moscow in November, according to the White House National Security Council (NSC).

And, as Russia continues to press the full-on invasion it launched a year ago today, the relationship between Moscow and Tehran is increasing, John Kirby, the NSC spokesman, told reporters Friday morning.

“Russia is planning to cooperate with Iran to obtain more military equipment and in turn. Russia has been offering Iran unprecedented defense cooperation, including on missiles, electronics and air defense,” Kirby said. “We believe that Russia might provide Iran with fighter jets.”

Kirby did not specify what kind of fighter jets, but we have written in the past that Iran is very likely to receive Russian-made Su-35 Flanker-E fighters, among other weapons, in exchange for sweeping military support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The likelihood of this happening has only grown in recent months based on additional information, including a story that dropped just last week.

A Russian Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jet. Dmitriy Pichugin via Wikimedia

What is believed to be a mockup of an Su-35 appeared in satellite imagery outside of the tunnel-hangar system at Iran's new 'Eagle 44' airbase which features part of the installation built into a mountain. This new base would be a likely candidate to house what would be by far Iran's most advanced combat aircraft. You can read more about the base in this recent War Zone article.

Iran, said Kirby, “is also seeking to purchase additional military equipment from Russia including attack helicopters, radars and the Yak 130 combat trainer aircraft. In total Iran is seeking billions of dollars worth of military equipment from Russia.”

He did not specify what types of helicopters or radar.

North Korea, meanwhile, “has provided arms to the Russian private military contractor Wagner which is committing atrocities and human rights abuses even as we speak across Ukrainian still throwing convict bodies in the fight over Bakhmut.”

Wagner capo di tutti capi Yevgeny Prigozhin complained that he lost troops due to a shortage of ammunition provided by Russia. But the Russian Defense Ministry pushed back, without naming any particular group, on any assertion that mercenary groups were being denied ammunition.

He did not specify what kinds of arms have gone from North Korea to Wagner.

The growing relationship between Russia and Iran is not just bad for Ukraine, Kirby said.

It “certainly is not good for the Middle East as Iran will seek to benefit from their cooperation with Russia and to get Russian military capabilities to bolster their own military power there in the region. So it's a concern on both ends.”

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.

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China too is considering sending lethal aid to Russia, but has not yet made a firm decision, Kirby said Friday.

"While we have indications that China may be considering the provision of lethal capabilities to Russia, we haven't seen them make that decision," he said. "We haven't seen them move in that direction. And we've been clear both privately and publicly about our concerns. With respect to that potential outcome frankly. China should not want to become tangibly involved in that manner."

Kirby declined to comment on a story posted yesterday by Der Spiegel that the Russian military "is engaged in negotiations with Chinese drone manufacturer Xi'an Bingo Intelligent Aviation Technology over the mass production of kamikaze drones for Russia."

After the press conference, The Wall Street Journal reported that "U.S. officials say China is considering delivering artillery and drones to Russian forces that could prolong the war." 

"The officials said no weapons deliveries have yet taken place," the newspaper reported. "But, if China were to go ahead and deliver lethal aid to Russia, the resulting tensions could shape Western relations with Beijing for years and potentially have profound consequences on the battlefield in Ukraine, at a point when both sides are gearing up for a spring offensive."

President Joe Biden told ABC News Friday that the U.S. "would respond" if China were to provide Russia with lethal aid.

"I don't anticipate - we haven't seen it yet, but I don't anticipate a major initiative on the part of China providing weaponry to Russia," Biden said in an interview at the White House one year after the Russian full-on invasion began.

Pressed on whether China providing weapons to Russia in the future would be crossing a line, Biden insisted that the U.S. "would respond" and referred to sanctions other countries have received after supporting Russia.

"It would be the same line everyone else would have crossed. In other words, we've imposed severe sanctions on anyone who has done that," Biden said.

"So, there would be serious consequences?" ABC asked.

"I'll let you characterize what they would be. We would respond," Biden said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday cautiously welcomed China’s 12-point peace plan to end the war but said it would only be acceptable if it led to Vladimir Putin pulling his troops out from all occupied Ukrainian territory, The Guardian reported.

Speaking at a press conference in Kyiv to mark the first anniversary of Moscow’s full-scale attack, Zelensky said he “wanted to believe” Beijing was interested in a “fair peace.” That meant not “supplying weapons to Russia,” he said, adding: “I’m doing my best to prevent that from happening. This is priority number one.”

Zelensky spoke for more than two hours on a variety of topics. The full press conference can be seen in the video below.

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Friday was another big day for military equipment bound or promised to Ukraine.

The first batch of Leopard 2 tanks arrived in Ukraine today, thanks to Poland. You can read more about that here.

And the U.S. military announced a new aid package for Ukraine that is packed with drones and loitering munitions, among other things. This includes AeroVironment Switchblade 600s and Jump 20s, CyberLux K8s, and Area-I ALTIUS-600s. This was the first time the latter three types have been included in a tranche of American military assistance for the Ukrainian armed forces. The ALTIUS-600s, especially, could give Ukrainian forces all-new long-range precision strike capabilities, among other potential benefits. You can read more about that here.

In addition to promising Ukraine 10 Leopard 2 tanks, the government of Sweden announced Friday it was donating parts of the medium-range Homing All the Way Killer (HAWK) air defense system. And, in cooperation with Germany, it intends to ensure Ukraine’s access to an additional IRIS-T air defense system, "for which Sweden is providing essential parts."

The Swedish media release does not specify the types of parts for either system.

Speaking of the IRIS-T, we are getting what appears to be our first look at the system, first provided by Germany last year, in Ukraine.

Though there is heavy fighting and Russian forces are pushing closer, Ukraine still holds Bakhmut, the Donetsk Oblast coal-mining town at the center of bitter fighting for months.

And while Ukraine lost Crimea when Russia annexed it in 2014, some of its residents punked occupation officials there today by planting a Ukrainian flag on a building in Sevastopol, headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

The Oryxspioenkop OSINT group has been keeping a running tally of visually confirmed equipment lost by Russia during the war, which it says exceeds more than 9,000 (though the real figure is likely much higher given all the equipment that cannot be visually confirmed in a war zone.)

The first item on the list?

A T-80BVM tank destroyed on the outskirts of Kharkiv on the all-our war's first day.

Despite global condemnation one year into its all-out invasion of Ukraine, Russia is standing firm on its rationale for the so-called special military operation.

That operation, according to the Russian Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has been conducted according to the UN Charter.

This is what it looks like inside a British Stormer NVM air defense system firing at a Russian drone.

And finally, frigid temperatures can impair the ability of drone operators to control the aircraft. So, as has often been the case in this conflict, Ukrainians found a workaround, developing a glove that keeps the drone operator's hands nice and warm.

That's it for now. We'll update this story when we have more to report.

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