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Russia Desperate for Iran, North Korea Help With Missiles, Drones: U.S.

Newsweek 1/17/2023 David Brennan

Top U.S. officials have said they expect Russia's ties with Iran to deepen as Moscow searches for a friendly supply of ammunition, missiles, drones, and other weapons needed to continue its war in Ukraine, now almost 11 months old.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl are part of a U.S. delegation visiting Ukraine this week. They told journalists on Monday at the Media Center Ukraine in Kyiv that Russia appears to be running low on long-range strike options.

"Frankly speaking, it is a sign of Russia's desperation that they are turning to Iran and North Korea," Kahl said, referring to reports that Moscow has sought a wide range of ammunition from Pyongyang, plus drones and ballistic missiles from Tehran.

North Korea has denied recent reports that it has sent ammunition to Russia for use in Ukraine. Iran also initially denied it had supplied Russia with combat and reconnaissance drones—most notably the Shahed-136 "kamikaze" UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle)—but later admitted it had sent a small number to Moscow before the full-scale invasion began on February 24.

Ukraine and its Western partners have disputed Tehran's claim and said there have been regular deliveries of hundreds of drones since the invasion began. The Kremlin, they have said, is also setting up its own facilities to produce Iranian drones within Russian borders.

There have been numerous reports that Moscow has lobbied Tehran to provide ballistic missiles, though there is no evidence that Iran has complied. There has also been speculation that Moscow will reward Tehran for its backing by protecting Iran from international action over its revitalized nuclear program and sending Iran new weapons.

Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Sunday—citing an Iranian lawmaker—that Tehran would soon receive a number of Russian-made Sukhoi Su-35 fighters, as well as new defense systems, missiles and helicopters.

"In terms of aircraft, I think we should expect Iran and Russia to deepen their relationship, again, because Russia will increasingly rely on assistance from other nations to get the weapons they lack," Kahl said Monday.

Sherman expressed U.S. concern about the state of Russia-Iran relations and said Washington, D.C. was monitoring Moscow's missile production capabilities and would look to impose related sanctions.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian and Iranian foreign ministries to request comment.

The deputy secretary of state said the U.S. was firmly committed to backing Kyiv against Russia's ongoing aggression, regardless of threats of escalation from President Vladimir Putin or rumors that the dictator would order further military mobilization.

"Putin decided to press further, so we must also press and we will do it," Sherman said.

Ukraine has warned that another wave of mobilization might see 500,000 Russians conscripted. The Kremlin gathered 300,000 new recruits in the first wave of partial mobilization announced in September.

Sherman said further large-scale mobilization would pose problems for Moscow.

"The mobilization of 500,000 people is a staggering thing," she said. "I suspect that, of course, under the staggering conditions there will be no quick training nor equipping of such a force, and it will be something that we, together with other countries, will work very hard on, so that Ukraine will win."

A destroyed Russian multiple launch rocket system is pictured in the Donetsk region on October 9, 2022 in Sviatohirs'k, Ukraine. Carl Court/Getty Images © Carl Court/Getty Images A destroyed Russian multiple launch rocket system is pictured in the Donetsk region on October 9, 2022 in Sviatohirs'k, Ukraine. Carl Court/Getty Images

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