In August, Russia flew about $141 million in cash and a selection of American and British-made weapons captured in Ukraine to Iran in return for dozens of combat drones to use in its war in Ukraine, Sky News reported Tuesday, citing an anonymous “security source.”
Sky News reported that a Russian military Il-76 Candid transport aircraft “secretly transported the cash and three models of munition – a [British Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapon, or] NLAW anti-tank missile, a US Javelin anti-tank missile and a Stinger anti-aircraft missile – to an airport in Tehran in the early hours of 20 August.”
It was unclear from the Sky News report whether just the missiles or the whole weapon systems were reportedly exchanged. In the case of the Javelin, for instance, the complete system includes a Command Launch Unit, CLU, which is reusable and has a thermal imaging system, among other things.
The NLAW, Javelin, and Stinger “had been part of a shipment of UK and US military equipment intended for the Ukrainian military that ‘fell into Russian hands,’” the source told Sky News.
Videos of Russians capturing these kinds of weapons, among others, in Ukraine first emerged early on in the all-out invasion, but it is unknown just how many they have seized in the course of the fighting.
The possession of those weapons “could give Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) the ability to study Western technology and potentially copy it,” according to Sky News. The outlet’s source added that “they will probably be reverse-engineered and used in future wars.”
In return for the cash and weapons, Iran supplied Russia with more than 160 drones, including 100 Shahed-136 drones, the source claimed.
The source alleged that a further drone deal worth about $201 million had been agreed upon between Tehran and Moscow in the past few days.
As evidence to support the claim, the security source shared “satellite imagery that they said showed two Russian military cargo planes at an airport in Tehran,” with Sky News. However, they said that only one of those aircraft had been responsible for transporting the cash and captured western weapons.
The War Zone could not independently verify the Sky News report. Asked about the story at a Tuesday press briefing, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said while he had seen it, he didn’t have “any information to provide.”
Last week Ryder, in response to questions about a U.S.-led effort to track weapons provided to Ukraine, said “we have no evidence of widespread diversion of U.S. security assistance in Ukraine.”
Before we head into more of the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage of the war here.
As Ukraine continues to push its southern offensive closer to Kherson City, satellite images have emerged of Russians setting up long lines of defense along the east bank of the Dnipro River. The images, compiled by OSINT analyst Benjamin Pittet, @DefMon3, @NLWartracker and Tim Ehrhart, show Russia apparently building what Euromaidan Press likened to a series of fortifications akin to the “Atlantic Wall” constructed by Germany during WWII to try and prevent an allied invasion.
Asked by The War Zone about the significance of those fortifications, Ryder, generally reluctant to offer battlefield analysis from the Pentagon briefing room podium, said it could portend one of two things.
“We do know that the Russians are establishing defenses,” he said. “In terms of what their plans may be, it could be one or two things and I’m gonna break my rule on this and speculate here a little bit. It could be that they are looking to defend that territory for the long term, or it could be part of a rearguard action, as they look to retrograde out of that area.”
Russians might use ships, seen in these images below, to assist any pullout from Kherson City.
Either way, the Pentagon continues to see “the Ukrainians apply pressure on” Russian forces, according to Ryder.
Serhii Khlan, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and the Kherson Oblast Council, said the real battle for Kherson City is still to come.
“Once it starts, the Orcs will definitely feel it,” Khlan said on his Facebook page Tuesday, using a derogatory term for Russians common in Ukraine. “Let them prepare, because for them there is a period of ‘difficult decisions’ ahead.”
Elsewhere on the battlefield, Russia continues to try to blunt Ukraine’s offensive in the Kharkiv Oblast while Russia is continuing its offensive operations in Donetsk, according to the latest assessment from the Institute for The Study of War think tank. Here are some of its key takeaways:
- Russian troops continued efforts to fix Ukrainian troops against the international border in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast.
- Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops continued counteroffensive operations in the Svatove direction.
- Russian sources claimed that Russian troops conducted limited counterattacks to regain lost positions west of Kreminna.
- Russian sources widely claimed that proxy and Wagner Group troops entered the outskirts of Bilohorivka.
- Russian troops continued offensive operations around Bakhmut, in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
- Ukrainian forces conducted limited interdiction efforts against Russian concentration areas in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to make public statements and signed additional decrees to portray himself as taking steps to fix fundamental problems with partial mobilization in Russia.
- Russian and occupation officials continue to abduct Ukrainian children, intimidate civilians, and escalate filtration measures.
With Russian drones and missiles severely damaging Ukraine’s power infrastructure, the U.S. and allies are considering the possibility of sending that embattled nation equipment to help it survive the looming winter, Ryder said Tuesday afternoon.
“These Russian missile strikes have taken out a significant portion of Ukraine’s energy grid. That’s affected the hydro electricity capabilities,” Ryder told reporters, including from The War Zone. “And so while I don’t have anything to announce today,” discussions are ongoing “in terms of how the U.S. and allies and partners can assist. And again, without getting ahead, we are looking at things like generators, water purification, heaters, things like that. So when we have something to announce, we’ll be sure to put that out.”
Ryder’s comments came after Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations, was in Kyiv and announced a $25 million USAID package to support Ukrainians particularly vulnerable to a lack of power.
“As winter approaches we are very focused on Ukraine’s energy needs,” she said Tuesday during a speech in Kyiv. “Russia continues to attack Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, but we refuse to let Ukrainians freeze or starve because of Russia’s brutal, unnecessary, illegal and inhumane war. “
Thomas-Greenfield made that announcement during a visit to an Internally Displaced People’s collective center that is “partially funded by USAID, which is ensuring displaced people have food, shelter, warmth this coming winter.” The new aid package will “expand on our winterization planning and response efforts and scale up assistance to nearly 75,000 of the most affected households. The United States is proud to provide this humanitarian relief is we do everything we can to help the Ukrainian people during the harsh winter months ahead.”
Earlier in the day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on his Telegram channel that “almost 40% of our energy infrastructure facilities were damaged by targeted attacks. Therefore, the first priority is the urgent creation of an air shield over Ukraine.”
To help address that, Ukrainian officials have repeated their call for the provision of Centurion Counter-Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar, or C-RAM, systems.
In the letter to U.S. congressional leaders obtained by ABC News, the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, called on the U.S. to provide Ukraine with C-RAMs, saying they would help protect “important objects, especially crucial power plants.”
Tuesday’s ABC report follows one a month ago by Foreign Policy citing a letter to Congress from the same official with the same request.
The Centurion is a land-based version of the Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS), which is in widespread use by the U.S. Navy and other naval forces around the world. It is armed with a Gatling-type 20mm Vulcan cannon.
C-RAMs have been used against drones before. Video emerged in January, for instance, of a C-RAM system in Iraq, along with a missile of some kind, perhaps from a Stinger, reportedly shooting down two drones. You can read more about that here.
These guns could provide an additional layer of defense for specific sites like a power station, supplementing air defense systems recently fielded by Ukraine like the German-provided IRIS-T SLM, U.S.-provided National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missiles Systems, or NASAMS, Spain-provided Aspide air defense systems. Still, they are no standalone solution to the problem of drone or missile strikes.
Ryder, who had not read the ABC report on the C-RAM request prior to the briefing, said “we will take into account a lot of different considerations and systems as we explore Ukraine security assistance needs, process-wise.”
The way it works, he said, is that “Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense provides its list to the Department of Defense, which we then consult with a variety of teammates within the government and our allies and partners in terms of fulfilling those needs. So again, air defense continues to be a priority. It’s something that we will speak about with our Ukrainian partners, with our allies, in terms of how we can best support them.”
Though Ukrainian officials have expressed concern about Iranian short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) – like the Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar SRBMs – coming to Russia sometime this month, Ryder told The War Zone he had no information to share about any requests from Kyiv specifically for missile defense systems.
“We have regular dialogue with the Ukrainians in terms of what their needs are,” he said. “That includes a variety of capabilities, from artillery, to armor, to air defense. And when we have something new to announce in that regard, we certainly will.”
You can read more about the threat Iranian ballistic missiles could pose to Ukraine here.
While Ryder said there was no news to report about North Korean artillery shells going to Russia, it appears that Pyongyang is providing Moscow with more than just those. Factories in the Hermit Kingdom are reportedly producing “large quantities” of winter gear for Russian troops, according to Radio Free Asia.
Last week, Ukrainian intelligence officials said that Iran would ship a new tranche of combat drones and later missiles across the Caspian Sea to the Russian port of Astrakhan. On Tuesday, video emerged reportedly showing a ship there on fire. Given that the video shows scaffolding around the ship, it is unclear what, if any connection the fire has to drone deliveries, but Ukraine has made it clear that it is looking for information about the vessels and routes being used for those drone shipments.
Speaking of drones, Ukraine appears to have captured what may be its first Russian Granat-4 reconnaissance drone, a design that has been rarely seen in use. “The infernal machine fell into the hands of [Ukrainian] soldiers, because it could not even reach our positions and fell in the gray zone,” the Armed Forces of Ukraine STRATCOM Telegram channel reported Tuesday.
The Granat-4 was apparently not the only recent rare battlefield find for Ukraine. The Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group also reported the spotting of a damaged Russian 9P138 Grad-1 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) in Kherson. This appears to be the first documented loss of this simplified version of the Grad mounted on a ZIL-131 chassis since the current conflict began on February 24.
Ukrainian troops also captured a command vehicle and two tanks in the Luhansk Oblast.
A month after an attack on Russia’s prized $4 billion Kerch Bridge, which links the Crimean peninsula it occupies to the rest of the country, repair work continues. Video has emerged of Russians reportedly moving replacement spans for the bridge, where officials yesterday claimed traffic on damaged lanes would resume next month.
Ukrainian officials continue to find remains of people they say were tortured by Russians, with exhumation work ongoing in the Izyum Forest among other places.
During her speech in Kyiv, American Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. would hold Russia “accountable for your crimes.”
“I met with victims of war crimes as well as their families and they told me how horrifying their experiences were,” she said. “One woman described being taken by the Russians [and] tortured. The back pains that she was still experiencing. And I could see the pain on her face. I promised her and the others that the world is with them and the world was watching and that I would share the pain they had gone through.”
Thomas-Greenfield said she also “toured a forensic lab, where I saw how crime scene technicians are meticulously examining war crime scenes and collecting necessary evidence. Their findings will be used by officials to build a case against the perpetrators of these horrifying atrocities. So my message to Russian forces is simple. We will hold you accountable for your crimes.”
Ukraine meanwhile continues to inflict damage on invading Russian forces. The Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group reported that a Russian 5P85SM transporter erector launcher, associated with the S-300PM1 and PM2 long-range air defense systems, was destroyed while on the move in Zaporizhzhia Oblast about 37 miles from the front lines.
The video below, reportedly taken in the Kherson region, looks to show a Russian tank that its crew apparently tried to “protect” with sewer hatches before it was knocked out.
A photograph has emerged reportedly showing a Ukrainian 30N6E radar, part of one of its S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, sporting “kill markings” denoting Russian drones, aircraft, and cruise missiles it apparently destroyed.
Ukraine’s Javelins are still hammering Russian armor, as this video posted by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry purportedly shows.
Meanwhile, videos keep popping up of equipment donated to Ukraine, like this M1167 Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV). One of the hundreds provided by the U.S. military, it is seen here equipped with a TOW anti-tank missile system, likely one of the first observed in Ukraine.
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