Iran says it delivered drones to Russia months before the Ukraine war The Iranian foreign minister says only a small number were delivered months before the invasion of Ukraine.

For the first time, Iran acknowledges it sent drones to Russia

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AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

For the first time, Iran is acknowledging having provided military drones to Russia. But Tehran is downplaying the shipments, as NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Iran has denied for months that it's supplying Russia with lethal self-exploding drones. Now Iran's foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, speaking to state-run media, acknowledged providing some autonomous aerial weapons last year to Moscow. But the Iranian foreign minister said Western countries are making a fuss out of the shipments and denies that they continue to supply Russia with Shahed drones. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacted to the statement from Iran by saying directly that the foreign minister is lying.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Non-English language spoken).

BEAUBIEN: "We shoot down at least 10 Iranian drones every day," Zelenskyy said. "And the Iranian regime claims it gave only a few before the start of the invasion. But just yesterday, 11 Shahed drones were destroyed." The uptick in drone attacks began this summer as Russia's stockpile of cruise missiles dwindled. Russia has accused Western nations of turning the conflict into a proxy war by shipping sophisticated missiles and other armaments to Ukraine. Speaking on Thursday at the Ukraine Media Center Odesa, Ukraine's defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said the Iranian weapons are being used to target civilian water, electricity and heating infrastructure. This has contributed to nationwide rolling electricity blackouts. And he said Ukraine has information showing that Iran plans to send many more drones.

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OLEKSII REZNIKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

BEAUBIEN: "We know Russia and Iran have signed contracts," Reznikov said. According to different sources of information, the general number of drones to be shipped was between 1,500 and 2,400 drones. Ukraine also has accused Iran of sending military personnel to Crimea to train Russian troops on how to operate the weapons. This is a charge that Iran also denies.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Kyiv.

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