Iran for the first time confirmed it sold drones to Russia, but said this happened “months” before the start of the war in Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters after an event in Tehran on Saturday, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian addressed claims by Western officials that Iranian drones were supplied to Moscow for its invasion, and that surface-to-surface missiles may also be on the way.
“Their comments on the missiles part are completely wrong, and the drones part is correct. We gave a limited number of drones to Russia months and before the war in Ukraine,” Amirabdollahian said.
Iranian officials had previously said on numerous occasions that Tehran had “defence” cooperation with Russia, but had not supplied the Kremlin with arms “for the purpose of being used in the war in Ukraine”.
Amirabdollahian reiterated on Saturday that Iran has not been a supporter of either side in the war and is ready to talk to Ukraine.
“We have emphasised to Ukrainian officials that if there is evidence about the use of Iranian drones in the Ukraine war by Russia, they should present it to us,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday accused Iranian officials of lying.
“Even with this confession, they are lying,” the Ukrainian leader said in his daily video message.
The number of Iranian combat drones shot down by Ukrainian air defences exceeds the “few” drones cited by Iran, he said.
“And the more Tehran lies, the more the international community will understand this terrorist collaboration between the regimes in Russia and Iran,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Ukraine’s foreign ministry warned Iran of “consequences” for supporting Moscow.
“Tehran should realise that the consequences of complicity in the crimes of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine will be much greater than the benefit of Russia’s support,” foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko wrote on Facebook.
According to the diplomat, an Iranian political and military delegation travelled to an unnamed European country two weeks ago to hold a meeting with Ukrainian counterparts, but they refused to attend “at the 11th hour” as a result of pressure from the United States and Europe, especially Germany.
“They had told the Ukrainian side that we want to sanction Iran for the issue of drones, and now you wish to participate in a meeting with the Iranians in Europe and drink coffee with them,” he said.
Amirabdollahian said Iran still expects Ukraine to present the evidence in the coming days and “if it is proven to us that Russia has used Iranian drones in the Ukraine war, we won’t be indifferent to it.”
The US and the European Union have imposed sanctions on a number of Iranian entities and officials over the drone sales to Russia, as Ukrainian officials have repeatedly condemned Tehran and downgraded diplomatic ties.
Moscow has said the unmanned aerial vehicles it used in the war have been Russian-made, and has warned the United Nations against investigating its use of drones in Ukraine.
Iran has also denounced efforts by the West to use UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which underpins its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, to prompt the UN to investigate the issue.