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Israeli Strike Forces Russian Drone Technicians to Shelter in Iranian Hotel

Strange Bedfellows

A group of Russians visiting Iran for purpose of gleaning instruction pertaining to drone manufacturing was compelled to shelter in a hotel during an Israeli strike on a munitions factory in the east-central Iranian city of Isfahan.

The Russian assemblage’s visit to Isfahan evinces Moscow’s ambition to establish a drone-production facility in Russia with the help of on-again-off-again Russian ally, Iran. Specifically, Moscow aspires to facilitate Russian domestic production of a variant of Iran’s Shahed-136 drone—known colloquially as the Geran-2.

A new facility located in Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone in the Republic of Tatarstan—some 486-nautical-miles east of Moscow—has been erected for the suspected purpose of manufacturing the aforementioned drones at scale. Production at the installation, however, has fallen at least one month behind schedule. Moreover, the facility has yet to produce a fully-functional drone.

A prominent U.S. news-outlet reportedly obtained documents germane to the Alabuga facility from an individual at once involved in the Russian drone-building effort and opposed to Moscow’s ongoing belligerence in Ukraine.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the conscientious-objector stated: “This was the only thing I could do to at least stop and maybe create some obstacles to the implementation of this project. It has gone too far.”

After a July examination of two drones downed in Ukraine, Conflict Armament Research (CAR)—a U.K.-based investigative organization engaged in tracking the supply of conventional weapons, ammunition, and related military materiel (such as IEDs) into conflict-affected areas—reported the design and key components of the contraptions evinced Russia had commenced production and battlefield use of its own domestically-produced version of the Shahed-136.

In addition to maintaining the iTrace Global Weapon Reporting System—a European Union-funded project providing E.U. policy-makers data pertaining to transfers of diverted conventional weapons, ammunition, and related materiel—CAR provides E.U. member-states technical support services, including training and capacity-building.

The documents obtained by the U.S. news-outlet were reviewed by the Institute for Science and International Security—a Washington D.C.-based non-profit, non-governmental institution founded in 1993 to inform the public vis-a-vis "science and policy issues affecting international security.” The institute concluded the documents indicated the Alabuga facility has been and remains "highly dependent" on Iran for drone designs, manufacturing, and quality control.

The obtained documents further disclosed that hundreds of Russian employees of the Alabuga plant and university students have been sent to Iran to receive training in drone-related technologies and manufacturing techniques.

While one such group was visiting Isfahan in January 2023, a drone strike, which Iran blamed on Israel, targeted a weapons factory in the city. While Iran's Defense Ministry claimed the strike was unsuccessful, video from the scene showed a large explosion ripping through the factory’s roof. The targeted facility is believed to have been linked to the production of drones and missiles.

The documents obtained by the U.S. news-outlet stated the visiting Russian personnel were forbidden, in the strike’s wake, to leave their hotel insomuch as Iranian officials feared further strikes might target facilities the group was scheduled to tour.



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