Russia handed a British anti-tank missile it had captured in Ukraine to Iran as part of an exchange deal for drones, it has been claimed.
The next-generation light anti-tank weapon (NLAW) is said to have been was flown to Tehran on a Russian military cargo plane with £120 million ($139m) in cash. The shipment also included a Javelin anti-tank missile and a Stinger anti-aircraft defence system the US had donated to Kyiv.
In return, Russia received dozens of deadly drones which it uses to target energy infrastructure and civilians in Ukraine.
The flight landed at an airport in the Iranian capital in the early hours of August 20, according to a security source who spoke to Sky News. The insider claimed the weapons had been destined for Ukrainian troops but “fell into Russian hands”.
Satellite images appear to correlate the anonymous source’s timing, showing two Russian aircraft at Mehrabad airport at 1.17am after flying in under the cover of darkness. The planes remained on the tarmac for around three hours before departure.
The money was said to have been delivered in euros.
The trade between Moscow and Tehran has led to fears Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) could gain valuable insights into the western state-of-the-art weaponry and potentially create imitations of its own.
“They will probably be reverse-engineered and used in future wars,” the source was quoted by the TV channel as saying.
Britain has donated more than 5,000 NLAWs to Ukraine and the weapons have played a major role in Ukraine’s resistance to invading forces.
Employing a soft-launch-guided system with predictable line-of-sight guidance, the system can take out tanks with a single shot.
Weighing 12 kilograms and measuring less than a metre in length, the shoulder-launched compact weapons has a range of up to 800m.
Training in how to use the missiles takes less than a day and they can be transported easily, a critical factor for Ukrainian troops on the ground.
As part of the deal with Iran, Russia received 160 unmanned aerial vehicles including 100 Shahed-136 kamikaze drones.
Ukraine has in recent weeks reported a spike in drones attacks. In October, the kamikaze drones were used in cities including the capital Kyiv as well as Lviv and Dnipro, attacking energy infrastructure and civilian areas.
The drones are piloted from the ground and explode on impact, providing a cheap alternative to cruise missiles.
A new deal worth £175 million has been agreed between Russia and Iran for another batch of drones, Sky News reported.
“That means there will be another big supply of UAVs from Iran soon,” the source said.
Russia denies its forces have used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine.
Iran has denied claims it agreed to supply Moscow with ballistic missiles.
Iran developed its drone technology after capturing a US drone in 2011, the source said.
“It seems that Iran also wants to benefit from the war [in Ukraine] by receiving from the Russians western capabilities that will be useful for them in the future — as happened in the past,” the insider said.
On Tuesday night, Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, expressed concern about the report, and said Iran sending drones to Russia posed a real threat to his country.
A senior government source did not deny the Sky News report when approached by The Telegraph.
The UK Ministry of Defence said it was urgently trying to verify the claims made by Sky News on Tuesday.
“We have not had a chance to go through it [the report] yet and clarify anything that has been alleged. We are trying to assess this and verify the report,” said a British military source.
In light of the report, western powers are likely to pressure Iran to avoid any future deals with Russia.
The two countries are increasingly seen as outcasts among the international community and have in recent months enjoyed closer ties.
On Tuesday night, it was reported Nikolai Patrushev, Russia’s national security adviser, had arrived in Tehran for meetings with the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Earlier this week a Farsi-language TV channel based in London claimed members of the IRGC were planning to assassinate some of its British-Iranian journalists.
Protesters against the Iranian regime this week urged King Charles to shut down Iran’s embassy in London while the monarch was in Bradford during a tour of Yorkshire.
What are Iran's kamikaze drones being used in Ukraine? — video
Iran and Russia 'doubling down' on partnership
Nicholas Carl, Middle East portfolio manager at the American Enterprise Institure’s Critical Threats Project, called the reports “surprising” but nevertheless “very plausible”.
Mr Carl, who specialises in Iranian security, said the balance of power in the partnership between Moscow and Tehran has changed in recent months as Iran assumes a more important role.
“What's particularly noteworthy about how the Russo-Iranian relationship has changed over the past couple of months, is that the Iranians are increasingly keen on a strategic rebalancing of this partnership,” he said.
“It has historically been the case that Iran has very obviously been the junior partner, whereas Moscow has been more dominant. Now things are changing.”
He cited the recent announcement by Iran’s supreme national security council secretary that Nikolai Patrushev, his counterpart in the Kremlin, had arrived in Tehran.
“Iranian state media emphasised that this guy had gone there,” Mr Carl said. “The Iranians are eager to boast that now the Russians come to them.
“So as we see these two parties, Moscow and Tehran, double down on their strategic partnership, expanding their economic and military cooperation, the Iranians are thinking through in what ways they can make it a more equal alignment.”
He said Tehran is “deeply invested” in working with revisionist powers like Moscow and Beijing to push back against the US.
As Russia’s munitions continue to deplete and their need for drones and missiles increases, Iran is likely to seize the opportunity to fill the gap, he said.
“That raises the question, what are the Russians going to be providing for the Iranians? As the Iranian support for the Russian war effort expands, or potentially expands I should say, it's an open question.”
He said the capabilities of specific western-made weapons which the Russians have is a topic unlikely to be raised in discussions with Iran. Instead, he said authorities in the Islamic republic are asking themselves what the Russians can do for them on a broader scale.
“That's not typically what I see the Iranians discussing in the open source when they are talking about what it is that they're doing and what it is that they're looking to get from the Russians,” he said.
“They instead have placed a lot of emphasis on the degree to which the Russians can provide them with fourth generation fighter jets, or earlier this year we saw the Russians launch a military satellite to space on behalf of Iran. That was also a huge interest of theirs for a while.”