Ukraine’s top security official has confirmed that Iranian military advisers have been killed in Crimea and warned that other Iranians in occupied Ukrainian territory will be targeted in support of Moscow’s invasion.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said Iranians were present in Crimea to help Russia pilot Shahed-136 armed drones supplied by the Tehran government, but did not say how many Ukraine had killed.
Reports in the Israeli press in October said 10 were killed due to Ukrainian military strikes in occupied Crimea. Danilov made it clear that any further Iranian military presence would be targeted.
“You shouldn’t be where you shouldn’t be,” Danilov said in an interview in Kyiv. “They were on our territory. We didn’t invite them here, and if they cooperate with terrorists and participate in the destruction of our nation, we must kill them.”
Wave after wave of Russian airstrikes, including drone and missile strikes, have targeted Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure since October, knocking it out as winter frosts begin to fall across the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday that the attacks were a “clear crime against humanity” and said Kyiv would submit a resolution condemning “any form of energy terror”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov sought to blame Ukraine on Thursday, saying it could “end all possible suffering of the civilian population” if it met the “demands of the Russian side”.
After initially denying the presence of Iranian drones in Ukraine, the Tehran government claimed it had supplied a “small number” of drones to Russia months before Vladimir Putin launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine in February. It denies sending Iranian trainers to help the Russians fly drones from occupied territory.
Kyiv expressed skepticism about Iran’s version of events, and experts from both countries met at Tehran’s request to discuss evidence gathered by Ukraine.
“The Iranians still insist that they are not supplying arms to the Russian Federation, but we need confirmation. Do we have this confirmation up to date? No, we don’t.” Danilov said. “We understand that these things don’t fly without them. [people] they are learning how to control them and the Russians don’t have the brains to figure it out on their own… You can’t hide anything in the modern world. It’s only a matter of time before it’s published.”
He said it was unclear whether Iran had also supplied ballistic missiles to Russia.
“We are trying to answer this question and we will do everything to prevent this from happening,” said Danilov. “But if it does happen, it tells us two things. First, that Russia does not have the ability to produce its own missiles, at least in numbers that would allow it to continue a large-scale war. Second, if a country under sanctions since 1979 is capable of producing such weapons, what kind of sanctions are we talking about? So that raises a big question about enforcement.”
Papers on the coffee table in Danilov’s office were covered with blank pages for security, and between them sat a chess set with a single black pawn out. When asked about this, Danilov said it was a metaphor for a world where the old rules no longer apply.
“It shows that everyone is starting with black now,” he said. “Or what is black may also be white, or perhaps gray.”
Ukraine’s relations with Israel are an example of a gray area. There is a long list of Israeli military equipment that the Kiev government would like to acquire, but Israel has tried to avoid Moscow’s retaliation and has tried to appear neutral.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s political comeback in elections this month further complicates the situation as he has a warm relationship with Vladimir Putin, but Iran’s involvement on Russia’s side will also affect Israel’s calculations.
“Israel’s attitude towards this war is well known and understandable,” Danilov said. “I would emphasize once again that in the modern world you cannot hide anything, support or lack of support. Are you pro-democratic or pro-authoritarian? Which side are you on?”
Danilov was speaking after the liberation of Kherson by Ukrainian armed forces and rumors of raids across the Dnieper River into the southern part of the Kherson region leading to Crimea. He was cautious about the state of the southern front, but pointed to previously reported operations behind Russian lines.
“Our armed forces are wherever they are needed. We have proven it more than once with our actions – when something exploded or cracked in the occupied territories, when something broke down, bridges fell, airports burned and much more.
He shrugged off suggestions that the pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive could be slowed by winter weather, the physical barrier of the Dnieper River or nervousness among Western allies that the eventual loss of Crimea would drive Putin to desperate, catastrophic measures. .
“We have to defend our country and make it free from terrorists at any time of the year. The season doesn’t matter,” Danilov said, adding that the Dnieper was “just another obstacle to overcome” and that “with modern equipment and modern weapons, it’s just a task to be completed.”
He added: “Until all our territory is free, our army cannot stop, including Crimea and other territories.”