Russia flew €140m in cash and captured Western weapons to Iran in return for deadly drones, source claims
Russia flew €140m in cash and a selection of captured UK and US weapons to Iran in return for dozens of deadly drones for its war in Ukraine, a security source has claimed.
A Russian military aircraft secretly transported the cash and three models of munition - a British NLAW anti-tank missile, a US Javelin anti-tank missile and a Stinger anti-aircraft missile - to an airport in Tehran in the early hours of 20 August, the source told Sky News, speaking on condition of anonymity to share sensitive information.
The weapons had been part of a shipment of UK and US military equipment intended for the Ukrainian military that "fell into Russian hands", according to the source.
The source said they could give Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) the ability to study Western technology and potentially copy it.
"They will probably be reverse-engineered and used in future wars," the source said.
The source alleged that a further drone deal worth €200m (£174m) had been agreed between Tehran and Moscow in the past few days.
"That means there will be another big supply of UAVs from Iran soon," the source said.
The Iranian and Russian governments were approached for a response to the allegations.
Coupled with more conventional missile strikes, they have targeted critical power and water supplies across the country, including in the capital Kyiv.
The barrages have killed civilians, caused widespread blackouts and strained Ukrainian air defences, with costly anti-aircraft missiles deployed to counter much cheaper drones.
Iranian drones 'crucial part' of war effort
Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think-tank, said the Iranian drones had become a crucial part of Russia's war effort.
"If Iran hadn't supplied the Shaheds, it would be significantly less effective in terms of the Russian strike campaign against Ukrainian electrical infrastructure and water," he said.
In a potentially even graver threat, the Iranian government has also reportedly agreed to transfer bigger, more sophisticated ballistic missiles to Russia.
Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, said if the reports were confirmed "this will pose a real, real threat".
He told Sky News: "If they [Iranian ballistic missiles] come in numbers, we will have real trouble."
Iran has dismissed the missile allegation as "completely false", though it did finally admit to supplying "a limited number of drones" to Moscow.
But Hossein Amirabdollahian, the foreign minister, claimed on Saturday that this happened before - not since - Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
By contrast, Ukraine, the US, the UK and France have all accused Iran of supplying drones to Russia more recently.
The exact total number is not clear. The US said in July it believed the Iranian government was preparing to provide Russia with hundreds of drones.
Russian military cargo planes 'in Tehran'
Offering evidence of the alleged 20 August drone transaction, the security source shared with Sky News satellite imagery that they said showed two Russian military cargo planes at an airport in Tehran.
The source said one of the Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft was believed to have transported the €140m (£122m) and the captured Western weapons.
The first image, time-stamped 1.17am in the morning on 20 August, showed two aircraft, highlighted by red lines, at Mehrabad airport in the Iranian capital.
In the second image, taken at just after 3.30am, one of the aircraft had moved to the runway side of the facility and the other had turned around.