Putin due in Tehran as US says Iran to supply drones to Russia

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is set to visit Tehran next week as the US has accused Iran of preparing to supply Russia with hundreds of weapons-capable drones for use in Ukraine.

Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, told reporters the US had information indicating Tehran was “preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred UAVs, on an expedited timeline”.

“Our information further indicates that Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these UAVs, with initial training sessions slated to begin as soon as early July.”

Sullivan added that the information received by the US supported views that Russia’s heavy bombardments in Ukraine, which have led it to consolidate gains in the country’s east in recent weeks, were “coming at a cost to the sustainment of its own weapons”.

Sullivan said it was not clear whether Iran had yet delivered any of the drones to Russia. He noted that Iran’s drones had been used by the Houthi rebels in Yemen to attack Saudi Arabia.

Sullivan’s claim comes as the Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that Putin would travel to Iran’s capital next week to hold talks with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan, who has positioned himself as the main mediator between the two countries at war, on Monday held calls with Putin as well as his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to discuss the situation in Ukraine and grain shipments.

Earlier on Tuesday, Iranian state media also reported that Putin would visit Tehran next week to discuss deepening economic ties.

Drones have played a crucial role on both sides of the war in Ukraine, for everything from firing missiles from a distance, to dropping small bombs on targets, to conducting reconnaissance for artillery forces and ground troops.

Ukraine’s forces have had particular success in using Turkish-made Bayraktar armed combat UAVs, and the US and other allies have supplied Kyiv with many types of smaller drones.

“From our perspective, we will continue to do our part to help sustain the effective defence of Ukraine and to help the Ukrainians show that the Russian effort to try to wipe Ukraine off the map cannot succeed,” Sullivan said.

The Guardian has previously reported that Russia was receiving munitions and military hardware sourced from Iraq with the help of Iranian weapons smuggling networks.

Tehran has repeatedly expressed readiness to sign long-term economic agreements with Russian businesses that have come under unprecedented western sanctions since the start of the war.

The Iran-Russia Joint Chamber of Commerce has claimed that Iran’s exports to Russia have increased since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden will travel to Israel and Saudi Arabia this week – two regional foes of Iran – where Tehran’s nuclear programme and malign activities in the region will be a key subject of discussion.

The US decision to publicly blame Iran for planning to rearm Russia also comes as both Israel and Saudi Arabia have resisted joining western efforts to sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press contributed to this report