Iran responds to Ukraine diplomatic demotion over Russia drones

Foreign ministry did not explicitly reject claims of drones sales but said Tehran maintains policy of ‘active neutrality’ in the war.

Iranian army drone in a hangar.
The US has accused Iran of supplying Russia with drones for its war in Ukraine, an allegation denied by Tehran [File: Iranian Army via AP]

Tehran, Iran – Iran says it will “respond appropriately” to Ukraine’s revoking of its ambassador’s accreditation over alleged drone sales to Russia while not directly denying it sold the aircraft.

In a short statement on Saturday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Ukraine’s decision to downgrade diplomatic relations with Iran was “regrettable” and based on “unconfirmed reports” by foreign media.

Kanani did not mention drones or explicitly deny that Tehran has supplied them to Moscow, but said Iran has exercised a “clear policy of active neutrality” when dealing with the war in Ukraine as it has stressed hostilities need to be resolved through dialogue.

“The numerous meetings and calls of our country’s foreign minister with Russian and Ukrainian counterparts in recent months have been in line with helping to resolve the crisis,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address on Friday the downgrade in diplomatic relations with Iran is because Ukrainian forces shot down a total of eight Iranian-made drones recently sold to Russia and used in the conflict.

“In response to such an unfriendly act, the Ukrainian side has decided to deprive the ambassador of Iran of his accreditation and also to significantly reduce the number of diplomatic staff of the Iranian embassy in Kyiv,” he said.

According to military authorities in Ukraine, the Shahed-136, a “kamikaze” unmanned aerial vehicle, and the larger Mohajer-6 have so far been downed by air defences.

The first apparent evidence of the use of Iranian drones by Russia came earlier this month when Ukraine’s military published several images of what it said was likely a Shahed-136 drone – painted in Russian colours and numbers – downed in Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region.

One day later, British military intelligence supported the claim, saying it was “highly likely” that Russia is deploying Iranian-made drones in the conflict.

American officials have claimed since July that Tehran was preparing to sell “hundreds” of the aircraft to Moscow, and later said Iran also trained Russian pilots on how to use the drones.

Iran’s foreign ministry previously rejected the claims, saying the country will not assist either side of the war, even as Tehran believes NATO has been the root cause of the conflict.

During a trip to Moscow in late August, Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said he delivered a “peace initiative” to his counterpart – which Iranian media reported was French President Emmanuel Macron.

But an article published in the Saturday edition of the ultraconservative Kayhan daily newspaper, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, appeared to counter Tehran’s official position.

“It has been a while since Iranian drones are operating in the Ukrainian sky against NATO,” said the article, which dealt with how Iranian engineers have managed to maintain and upgrade the country’s military aircraft despite decades of Western sanctions and pressure.

It also said “hundreds” of drones have been exported to Russia and by the time US outlet CNN reported last month that Iran was training the Russians, “training the Russian forces was almost over”.

Iranian Shahed drone
This undated photograph released by Ukraine’s military shows the wreckage of what Kyiv described as an Iranian drone downed near Kupiansk [Ukrainian military via AP]
Source: Al Jazeera