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US sees more indications of ‘burgeoning defense relationship’ between Russia, Iran

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2022. (ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States is seeing more indications that Russia and Iran are expanding a defense partnership in a way that will help Moscow prolong its war in Ukraine, the White House said on May 15.

Russia is looking to purchase more advanced drones from Iran, while at the same time Iran is looking to buy “billions of dollars of military equipment” from Russia, including aircraft and other military hardware that increase the security threat to Iran’s neighbors, said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

“This is about a burgeoning defense relationship…that goes both ways,” said Kirby, adding that Washington is exploring more sanctions on Iran.

“We are using the tools at our disposal to expose and disrupt these activities, and we are prepared to do more,” Kirby told reporters.

Drones are the primary military help Iran is providing to Russia, which is seeking to acquire advanced level types, he said.

Iran announced two months ago that it reached a deal to buy advanced Su-35 fighter planes from Russia. Iranian state media said Iran had asked a number of countries to explore the possibility of selling it fighter jets, and Russia had given a positive response to the request. Details of the deal were not disclosed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran last July, stressing closer ties between their two countries in the face of Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

Iran has acknowledged sending drones to Russia but says they were sent before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. Moscow denies that its forces use Iranian-built drones in Ukraine, although many have been shot down and recovered there.

Iran’s air force has only a few dozen strike aircraft, including Russian jets and aging U.S. models acquired before the Iranian revolution of 1979.