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What in the World?

Iran drones underscore Putin’s desperation in Ukraine war

Oct 20, 2022

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The kamikaze drones being used by the Russian army in a string of recent attacks on Kyiv come from Iran. Moscow has had to turn to one of its last remaining allies for tech weaponry to maintain its assault on civilians in the Ukraine capital. Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan says the outreach for Iranian drones shows just how far Russia has fallen in industrial capacity, and underscores Vladimir Putin’s growing desperation in the Ukraine war.

Excerpted from Peter’s Oct. 20 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Russia’s reliance on Iran for armed drones and missiles is a resounding fall from grace for the one-time defense manufacturing rival to the United States. And a telling indicator of not only just how far the Russians have fallen, but how few reliable friends Moscow has left. It is also a stunning reversal in leverage for Putin, who for decades has used his ability to lean on Tehran (especially when it comes to U.S.-Iranian spats) as a tool against Washington, DC.Beyond the geopolitical intrigue, the shoddiness of Iranian tech underscores the determination of Russian leadership to inflict as much pain and damage to Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure as possible. Iranian drones are unreliable, loud and easily shot down. Russia has to overcompensate by sending small swarms all at once to take out their intended targets –many of which are residential areas, train stations and power infrastructure. Really hard to accidentally target any of these over a half-dozen times…

Look at the targets that the Russians have been choosing. Glass bridges, power plants, apartment blocks…things that are absolutely, 100% not military targets. That tells us two things. Number one, they’re not just deliberately committing war crimes, they’re programming those same coordinates in five, 10, 20 times to make sure they hit the target, which is about as deliberate as war crimes can get.

Second, there are almost no reports of the Russians targeting military targets. Now, military targets evolve. And so, in order to hit a building that has what you want, you need some intelligence. That’s probably why the Russians aren’t going after them, because they have none. Their satellite reconnaissance is not working, or at least it’s not being communicated to the people who are launching these assaults. They don’t have fighter or reconnaissance plane cover at all, and their drones aren’t good enough with optics and range to provide them with the basic information they need for military targeting. So all that’s left is civilian targeting.

Hey everyone. Hello from the woods of Georgia. Today I wanted to talk a little bit about the drones that the Russians have started using in the Ukraine War, specifically the ones that are imported from Iran. Now there’s three big takeaways here.

Number one, we’re now getting a front-row seat to find out just how collapsed the entire industrial base in the Russian system is. You know, this at one point was the second most powerful manufacturing power in the world at the height of the Soviet Empire in the 1960s. And now they are reliant upon what are basically flying mopeds from a country that has been under sanctions for 30 years and is a technological leader in nothing. It would be very easy in the west for us to retrofit a third-rate auto facility to produce things like this, and the Russians clearly cannot do it themselves. Not just not at scale, individually. 

And when you look at some of their advanced weapons systems that we’ve all been hearing about for years, that at least on paper look really good, the Russians have had to handmake some of their new fighter bombers to the tune of one a year, because that’s all they can manage. So getting dozens and maybe even hundreds of drones from the Iranians all of a sudden is one of their more viable options for resupply. And that’s honestly, that’s kind of embarrassing. Second, the problems have a problem with leverage. Now, in the ongoing American-Iranian saga, I mean, the two sides don’t get along; they haven’t for a long time. But the Iranians have always kind of reserved the right to bring the Russians into the mix in order to disrupt things. And the Russians have always stuck their nose into relations between the Americans and the Iranians whenever it looks like the two of them might actually get along for a change in order to keep that alive.

All of a sudden it’s Iran that has all the leverage because yes, the Iranians are providing weapons to…a country that honestly, should not have a problem making these themselves. But the question is, how do you compensate the [Iran] for them? And the best guess from what we’ve seen so far is the Russians have promised to launch a satellite for Iran, which, you know, these drones go for about 20 grand a pop. So paying for a few dozen to a few hundred drones with a satellite launch to give Iran a fundamentally new capacity…wow, that is not an equitable trade. But it’s really all the Russians have on offer. I mean, what else are the Russians gonna send Iran, oil? Please. 

Third and finally, there’s the question of war crimes. Now, the Iranian weapons are not very sophisticated. They can’t pick their own targets. They can’t dodge. You basically program in some coordinates and they take off. They fly at a relatively stable altitude, and they basically go in a straight line from the point of launch to the point of detonation. Which means that every single thing that the Russians hit was either something they were aiming for specifically, or something that just just happened to get in the way because it was too tall. So usually the former rather than the latter. 

And because these things move so slowly – only about 60 to a hundred miles an hour – and because they’re so loud, then they can be downed by a small arms fire, the Russians have been launching them in groups of at least six, sometimes up to 20, just to make sure that at least one of them gets to the end location.

Look at the targets that the Russians have been choosing. Glass bridges, power plants, apartment blocks…things that are absolutely, 100 percent not military targets. That tells us two things. Number one, they’re not just deliberately committing war crimes, they’re programming those same coordinates in 5, 10, 20 times to make sure they hit the target, which is about as deliberate as war crimes can get. Second, there are almost no reports of the Russians targeting military targets. Now, military targets evolve. And so, in order to hit a building that has what you want, you need some intelligence. That’s probably why the Russians aren’t going after them, because they have none. Their satellite reconnaissance is not working, or at least it’s not being communicated to the people who are launching these assaults. They don’t have fighter or reconnaissance plane cover at all, and their drones aren’t good enough with optics and range to provide them with the basic information they need for military targeting. So all that’s left is civilian targeting. 

Now, for the Ukrainians, this is the best and the worst of all worlds. The worst is obvious. What’s vulnerable are buildings that are of civilian make that…can’t move and that they’re the same thing every day. On the good side, it does mean that any logistical depot that the Ukrainians have are, I don’t wanna say immune to Russian assaults, but heavily resistant because the Russians are demonstrating they don’t have sufficient battlefield logistical intelligence to even provide some base targeting profiles. That would seem to suggest that at least for the remainder of this year and maybe into the first quarter of next year, that Ukraine absolutely has flipped the balance of forces when it comes to deep-strike options, despite the fact that it still doesn’t have nearly as much heavy equipment or aircraft as the Russians have. The Russians are just unable to leverage what they have, assuming it works at all.

For the Ukrainians, this is the best and worst of all worlds. The  worst is obvious. Ukrainian buildings don’t move, Civilian assets don’t move. They don’t change day to day. So that’s what the Russians are capable of targeting. That’s what they’re going after. On the best, military equipment does move. What logistical depot or arms depot is important one day is not necessarily important the next. And that requires actual intelligence to provide the targeting coordinates that the other side needs in order to mess up your military operations. It is clear that the Russians lack the capacity to do that. So even though the Russians still have a lot more men and equipment with, uh, certainly a lot more men on the way, at least for the next few months, the Ukrainians actually have better deep strike capacity because they have eyes on the ground, either directly through their human operations or indirectly through the Americans. And when it comes down to making sure that every shot counts, that’s what you need. All right, that’s it for me. Until next time.

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