Ukraine’s top security official has confirmed that Iranian military advisers have been killed in Crimea, warning that other Iranians on occupied Ukrainian territory to support Moscow’s invasion would also be targeted.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, said Iranians were present Crimea to help Russia pilot the armed Shahed-136 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 as a result of Ukrainian military attacks on 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 Kiev. “They were on our territory. We did not invite them here, and if they are collaborating with terrorists and participating 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, sending it into blackouts as the winter chill began to fall over the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told a UN Security Council meeting late Wednesday that the attacks are “a blatant crime against humanity” and said Kiev would introduce a resolution condemning “any form of energy terror”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tried 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, Tehran’s government has claimed it delivered a “small number” of the drones to Russia months earlier. Vladimir Putin launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine in February. It denies sending Iranian trainers to help Russians fly the drones from occupied territory.
Kyiv has expressed his skepticism on the Iranian version of events, and experts from both countries have met at Tehran’s request to discuss evidence gathered by Ukraine.
“The Iranians continue to insist that they are not arms suppliers to the Russian Federation, but we need confirmation. Do we have this confirmation as of today? No, we don’t.” said Danielov. “We understand that these things don’t fly without them [people] learn how to operate them, and the Russians don’t have the brains to figure it out for themselves… In the modern world, you can’t hide anything. It is only a matter of time when it is made public.”
He said it was unclear whether Iran had also supplied Russia with ballistic missiles.
“We are trying to answer this question and we will do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Danilov said. “But if it happens, it will tell us two things. First, that Russia is unable to manufacture its own missiles, at least in the numbers that would allow it to continue a full-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 it raises a big question about enforcement.”
The papers on the conference table in Danilov’s office were covered with blank pages for security reasons, and between them was a chess set with only one black pawn ahead. When asked about it, Danilov said it was a metaphor for a world where the old rules no longer apply.
“It shows everyone is starting with black now,” he said. “Or what is black can also be white, or maybe 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 present itself as neutral.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s political comeback in elections this month further complicates the picture, 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 position on this war is known and understandable,” Danilov said. “Once again I want to point out that in the modern world you can’t hide anything, support or the absence of support. Are you pro-democracy or pro-authoritarian? Which side are you on?”
Danilov spoke after the liberation of the city of Kherson by the Ukrainian forces and rumors of raids across the Dnipro River into the southern part of the Kherson region leading to Crimea. He was coy about the state of the southern front, but pointed to previously reported operations behind Russian lines.
“Our armed forces are where they are needed. We have proven that more than once with our actions – when something exploded in the occupied territories, or something exploded, when things break down, bridges fall, airports burn down and much more.”
He dismissed suggestions that the pace of the Ukrainian counteroffensive might be slowed by winter weather, or the physical barrier of the Dnipro, or nervousness among Western allies that the possible loss of Crimea would drive Putin to desperate, catastrophic measures. .
“We must defend our country and rid it of terrorists at any time of the year. The season doesn’t matter,” said Danilov, adding that the Dnipro was “just another obstacle that we will overcome,” and that “with the modern equipment and modern weapons, it’s just a job to be done.”
He added: “Until our entire territory is free, our army cannot stop, and neither can Crimea and the other areas.”