Iran has not sent ballistic missiles to Russia so far, says Ukrainian official

Iran has so far not delivered ballistic missiles to Russia and may not do so, as a result of diplomatic pressure and Iran’s own internal political turmoil, a senior Ukrainian presidential adviser has said.

Mikhailo Podolyak also told the Guardian that Russian forces had run short of their first batch of Iranian drones – and only had enough of their own cruise missiles in their stockpile for “two or three” more mass strikes against Ukraine.

Russia has sought to replenish its arsenal with an offer to buy Iranian missiles. The secretary of the security council, Nikolai Patrushev, visited Tehran in November, and was reported to have had missiles on his shopping list.

But Podolyak said the deal has not gone through yet. “Iran has come under huge diplomatic pressure and the protests have also raised pressure on the government,” he told the Guardian in his Kyiv office.

“The government is starting to lose its grip on Iranian society and their inner domestic problems are growing. That’s why they just don’t have time for dealing with Russia. It’s not their priority.”

In a separate briefing, western officials largely concurred with Poldoyak’s remarks, emphasising that Russia has used up its stockpile of Iranian-made drones over a two-month period, mostly in waves of attacks directed against Ukraine’s energy grid.

One western official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Tuesday that Russia had “run out” of Iranian drones around two to three weeks ago and was “anticipating a resupply” while the missile talks continued.

Iran initially supplied up to 2,400 of its drones, according to Ukraine, which were used in deadly attacks on cities such as Kyiv and Zaporizhzhia. Their stocks were “almost exhausted”, Podolyak added – but that “as far as we know” Iran had transferred the technology to Russia, so it was up to Moscow to make some more.

Western governments also believe that Iran has not made a decision on whether to supply Russia with missiles, reflecting in part how far Tehran wants to be drawn into the Ukraine war and its long-term relationship with Moscow.

“Iran will want to think carefully about what it’s committing, but there’ll also be a deeper conversation about what arrangement the Iranians and the Russians are coming to,” the official added.

Podolyak said he believed talks were still under way between Moscow and Tehran on missiles and that, as part of its bargaining position, the Russian government had offered its own “cut-throats”, referring to experts in crushing dissent, to suppress the nationwide anti-government protests. “So the negotiations are ongoing, but as of today, no missiles have been transferred to Russia,” he said.

An oil storage tank at a Russian airfield in Kursk was set on fire by a drone attack on Tuesday, the Russian region’s governor has said, a day after Ukraine appeared to launch audacious drone attacks on two military airfields deep inside Russian territory.

Video footage posted on social media showed a large explosion lighting up the night sky followed by a substantial fire at the airfield 175 miles (280km) from the Ukrainian border. At daybreak a large column of black smoke was still visible above the site.

Roman Starovoyt, the governor of the Kursk region bordering Ukraine, said on the Telegram messaging app there were no casualties from the attack and the fire was “localised” – in an attack that came after Monday’s strikes on the Dyagilevo airbase in Ryazan and Engels-2 base near Saratov.

Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attacks, but is widely considered to have carried them out. Russian sources have said that Ukraine used a modified Tu-141 Strizh reconnaissance drone, originally built by the Soviets in the 1970s, on bases 300 and 500 miles from the border.

However, initial satellite images from Dyagilevo, released by Israeli satellite imaging company ImageSat International, showed only relatively limited damage from burn marks and objects near a Russian Tu-22M aircraft. Other experts have suggested the bases were attacked by drone from within Russia by partisan groups operating deep behind the frontline.

Western officials said there had been “an explicit bar” on some Nato-standard munitions being used within Russia, following reports that US Himars rocket artillery had been modified to prevent use of the ATACMS long-range rockets. They hinted that raids within Russia would probably have been conducted by Ukrainian-made and commercially acquired drones.

The presidential aide said that Ukrainian forces had become adept at defending against Russian missile attacks, claiming to have shot down an estimated 60 of 70 missiles fired on Monday, as he argued Moscow may not be able to keep up the intensity of the nationwide barrage for much longer.

Western intelligence has endorsed previous estimates made by Ukraine in October that Russia has used up 70% of its precision missiles. However, multiple attacks that have damaged or destroyed half of the electricity network since then have raised questions about the true level of weapons stocks.

Earlier this week, experts from Conflict Armament Research concluded, after examining fragments of Russian Kh-101 cruise missiles fired at in Kyiv in late November, that one came from a missile manufactured in the summer and another in September.

The western official said on Tuesday that, when it came to precision guided missiles, it was believed that “the Russian military industrial complex can only produce so many at a time” and the approach to fire off a few dozen in a burst reflected the limits of the country’s productive capacity.

Podolyak said Ukraine, with foreign help, was also working towards making its power grid more resilient, redesigning it to make it easier for one region with access to power to help another that had been cut off. Monday’s air raids caused a series of power cuts, although the country’s energy minister, German Galushchenko, said on Tuesday that the power deficit would be largely restored by the end of the day.

Podolyak, a close aide to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was also fiercely critical of remarks from Emmanuel Macron on Saturday, in which the French president suggested that the west should offer “guarantees to Russia” if Vladimir Putin agreed to peace negotiations.

“It’s quite weird when you’re not trying to help the victim – and it’s very clear who’s the victim here – but you’re thinking of how to satisfy the murderer,” he said.


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