War in Ukraine: US claims Iran has people ‘on the ground’ to help with Russian drone deployment
The White House said Iranian military personnel were “on the ground” in Crimea, offering training and technical support.
Drone attacks have caused major damage and casualties in Ukraine in recent days, including in the capital Kyiv. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow's forces had destroyed 30 per cent of the country's power stations over the past ten days.
This comes as Mr Zelensky has accused Russia of preparing to blow up a dam at a hydroelectric plant in southern Ukraine, which he said would lead to a "large-scale disaster".
In his nightly video address, Mr Zelensky said the North Crimean Canal would “simply disappear” if Russia blew up the Kakhovka dam.
He said: “Now everyone in the world must act powerfully and quickly to prevent a new Russian terrorist attack. Destroying the dam would mean a large-scale disaster. With this terrorist attack, they can destroy, among other things, even the possibility of supplying water from the Dnipro River to Crimea.
“And if Russia is preparing such a terrorist attack, if it is seriously considering such a scenario, it means the terrorists are clearly aware that they will not be able to keep not only Kherson, but also the entire south of our country, including Crimea."
He said doing so should be treated by the world as the same as use of weapons of mass destruction.
Think-tank the Institute for the Study of War said it believed Russia was "likely continuing to prepare for a false flag attack" on the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant. The organisation said the Kremlin could create "information conditions" for Russian forces to blow up the dam after they pull out of western Kherson and then accuse Ukraine of flooding the river and surrounding settlements.
In a press conference, the White House said it had intelligence that Iranian personnel were assisting in the use of drones. Iran has previously claimed it had not supplied drones to Russia, while on Thursday, the Russian United Nations representative said Western claims of Iran’s drone exports to Russia are an example of disinformation, aimed at "hitting two targets at once".
"We assess that Iranian military personnel were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia in these operations," White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.
He said a "relatively small" number of Iranians were providing technical support and Russians were piloting the drones in Ukraine.
"Tehran is now directly engaged on the ground and through the provision of weapons that are impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine," Mr Kirby said.
The US will "pursue all means" to "expose, deter and confront Iran's provision of these munitions against the Ukrainian people", he added.
Russia has said it wants to continue to target Ukraine’s infrastructure as the country works to conserve energy, with its power grids hit in the latest round of attacks.
It said it intends to increase its targeting of Ukraine's power, water and other vital infrastructure systems.
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