Russian Attack Drone Operators Trained at Iranian ‘Aerial Terror’ Base: Ukrainian Investigation
Four Russian military officers are alleged to have received specialist training in the operation of attack drones at an Iranian base last August, under the cover of an army games competition, Ukrainian media outlets reported on Thursday.
The four Russians — who were all named as part of an independent investigation conducted by Ukrainian outlets Slidstvo and OurMoney — traveled to Iran last August to participate in a “falcon hunting” competition, in which drones are used to simulate the training, hunting and breeding of birds of prey. As well as the Russian contingent, competitors came from the militaries of Venezuela, Armenia, Belarus and Zimbabwe, all of which retain close ties with both Moscow and Tehran.
The competition was held at the Kashan military base, near the city of Isfahan. In Sept. 2021, then Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that the base had become “a key point from which Iranian aerial terrorism is exported to the region.”
According to the investigation, a Russian delegation visited Kashan on at least two occasions prior to the competition, where their Iranian hosts demonstrated the Shahed drones that have been used to devastating effect against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure since last summer. Around the same time, US officials expressed concern that Iran was preparing to supply Russia with the drones. After the competition ended, the four Russian officers remained for further training.
Ukrainian defense officials say that Iran has so far supplied Russia with nearly 2,000 drones, more than 500 of which have been destroyed by the country’s air defenses since September, Yuriy Ignat, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s air force, said on Tuesday.
The four Russian officers all serve with the aviation department of the Russian Defense Ministry, the investigation claimed. They were named as Sergei Sozinov, a 36-year-old officer from the Russian city of Kolomna, near Moscow, where the military’s drone operation is located; Andrey Stepova, a 31-year-old captain in the Russian air force; Hleb Plivkin, a 25-year-old officer whose mother and sister reportedly live in Kyiv; and Yevhenii Glukhov, a 25-year-old former army cadet.
While in Iran, Sozinov posted photos of himself to social media showing his participation in both the competition and during training afterwards at the Kashan base.
Separately, the journalists conducting the investigation were able to reach Glukhov by phone. “I am impressed by your awareness,” he told them. “What’s in it for me if I have this conversation?”
Asked whether he was aware that the use of drones constitutes a war crime, Glukhov insisted, “I am not committing any war crime.” He then denied any knowledge of the use of Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 drones against Ukrainian targets.
Iran’s military alliance with Russia has bolstered Ukrainian demands on Israel to match its humanitarian aid operation with military assistance. Kyiv insists that Iran’s belligerent position towards Israel is enough reason for Jerusalem to change its policy on this front.
However, there are fears Israel’s newly-elected right-wing government may align more closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. On Wednesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described Israel as a “difficult country” during a press briefing in which he speculated on Israeli-Russian ties.