Russia has been capturing some of the US and NATO-provided weapons and equipment left on the battlefield in Ukraine and sending them to Iran, where the US believes Tehran will try to reverse-engineer the systems, four sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Over the last year, US, NATO and other Western officials have seen several instances of Russian forces seizing smaller, shoulder-fired weapons equipment, including Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft systems that Ukrainian forces have at times been forced to leave behind on the battlefield, the sources told CNN.
In many of those cases, Russia has then flown the equipment to Iran to dismantle and analyze, likely so the Iranian military can attempt to make their own version of the weapons, sources said. Russia believes that continuing to provide captured Western weapons to Iran will incentivize Tehran to maintain its support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, the sources said.
US officials don’t believe that the issue is widespread or systematic, and the Ukrainian military has made it a habit since the beginning of the war to report to the Pentagon any losses of US-provided equipment to Russian forces, officials said. Still, US officials acknowledge that the issue is difficult to track.
It’s not clear if Iran has successfully reverse-engineered any US weapons taken in Ukraine, but Tehran has proven highly adept at developing weapons systems based on US equipment seized in the past.
A key weapon in Iran’s inventory, the Toophan anti-tank guided missile, was reverse engineered from the American BGM-71 TOW missile in the 1970s. The Iranians also intercepted a US-made drone in 2011, a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 “Sentinel,” and reverse-engineered it to create a new drone that crossed into Israeli airspace in 2018 before being shot down.
The coordination is yet another example of Moscow’s growing defense partnership with Tehran, which has intensified over the last year as Russia has become increasingly desperate for external military support for its war against Ukraine. The partnership is not only further destabilizing Ukraine, but it could also threaten Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said last month.
CNN has reached out to the Russian embassy in Washington and the Iranian UN mission for comment.