Firefighters conduct work after a Russian attack targeted energy infrastructure in Kyiv, Ukraine on Tuesday. Photo by State Emergency Service of Ukraine | License Photo
Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The United States and Britain on Thursday accused Iran of having troops on the ground in Russia-controlled areas of Ukraine to assist Kremlin forces with the use of Tehran-made drones, which Kyiv for weeks has said have wreaked havoc on civilian infrastructure.
The accusations from the democratic allies were leveled against Iran and Russia as Ukraine on Thursday resorted to rolling blackouts nationwide in order to conserve power as Kremlin attacks have decimated its energy infrastructure, with Kyiv saying Iranian drones have been used in the strikes.
Though both Iran and Russia have vehemently and emphatically denied the use of Iranian drones in the conflict, U.S. officials at the White House, State Department and Pentagon on Thursday confirmed Iranian troops were on the ground in Ukraine.
The British government identified the forces as members of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The White House said the number of forces were relatively small.
"We can confirm that Russian military personnel based in Crimea have been piloting Iranian UAVs and using them to conduct kinetic strikes across Ukraine, including in strikes against Kyiv in recent days," State Department spokesman Ned Price said to reporters during a press briefing. "Russia has received dozens of these UAVs so far and will likely continue to receive additional shipments in the future."
Since July, the United States has warned that Iran was preparing to transfer drones to Russia, and on Wednesday as Moscow and Tehran were denying the accusations Price issued a statement saying there is "abundant evidence" of Kremlin forces using Iranian drones.
During the press briefing Thursday, Price added that they also have credible information that prior to Iranian forces landing in Ukraine, Russian troops received drone training in the Middle Eastern county.
The United States, Britain and France on Wednesday had brought their accusations against Iran before the United Nations Security Council, arguing Iran's supplying of drones to Russia violated resolution 2231, which endorsed an Obama-era multination nuclear accord that bars Iran from transferring materials, goods and technology to another country.
Following the closed-door meeting, representatives from both Iran and Russia refuted the accusations while accusing the democratic nations of running a disinformation campaign.
On Thursday, Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said given the evidence of the drones in Ukraine and Iran's export of terror more generally, "it's obvious that they're lying."
"It's just indicative of the kinds of rhetoric that you hear coming from Iran and from Russia, trying to say that these are not Iranian drones when they clearly are," he said.
Price told reporters that Russia's need of Iranian assistance is a reflection of export controls, sanctions and other economic measure that have been imposed on Moscow, and they may turn to other U.S. adversaries, including Pyongyang, for help.
"The fact is that they don't have the ability to organically produce, to import, the key inputs that they need, and so they're turning to Iran," he said. "They're exploring arrangements with North Korea."
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that worries at the White House now surround whether Russia, amid is supply shortages, will try to acquire conventional weapons from Iran, such as surface-to-surface missiles.
"The fact is this: Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground and through the provision of weapons that are impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine -- in fact, that are killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine," he said during a White House press briefing.
In response, the Biden administration will do everything it can to confront Iran's provision of munitions to Russian, he said.
As to why Russia needs Iranians on the ground, Kirby said because the Russian forces are unfamiliar with the systems and they committed early failures in their use.
The United States leveled the accusations against Iran during a precarious time in their relationship as the Biden administration has sought to resume the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from in 2018. The JCPOA sought to deny Tehran the ability to acquire nuclear arms.
It also comes amid mass anti-regime protests in the Middle Eastern country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed last month while in police custody.
Kirby told reporters that the White House is focused solely on holding the regime to account for its subsequent bloody crack down on protesters and for holding Tehran and Moscow accountable for the arms sales.
"We are not focused on the diplomacy at this point," he said.
In response to the use of drones, Britain and the European Union on Thursday leveled sanctions against Iran, with London targeting high-ranking members of its military.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly called Iran's support of Russian President Vladimir Putin's war "deplorable."
"These cowardly drone strikes are an act of desperation," he said in a statement. "By enabling these strikes, these individuals and a manufacturer have caused the people of Ukraine untold suffering. We will ensure that they are held to account for their actions."
Firefighters conduct work while smoke rises from a building after it was attacked by Russian drones in Kyiv, Ukraine, on October 17, 2022. Photo by Vladyslav Musiienko/UPI | License Photo