Russia drawing up plans for its first production facility of 'kamikaze' drones
Russia is drawing up proposals to build its first production plant for suicide drones as part of a plan for a fresh offensive in Ukraine, officials have told ITV News.
A site has been identified for a factory where Iranian specialists will help the Russian military to construct 'unmanned aerial vehicles', designed to paralyse Ukraine's energy infrastructure and overwhelm its air defence systems during the Spring, when newly trained troops are expected to launch a new push.
Construction work could begin at the factory "within weeks" said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Until now, Russia has relied on shipments of UAVs sent directly from Iran then deployed to the battlefield in Ukraine.
ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo discusses the plans for Russia to build its first production plant for so called 'kamikaze' drones
But security sources believe that, following a high-level meeting in Moscow last November between officials from the two countries, plans were agreed to start work at a factory in Yelabuga, an industrial town in the autonomous republic of Tatarstan.
The most recent satellite images of the area surrounding the assumed site, assessed by ITV News, appear to show several industrial buildings in a largely residential area, but no obvious evidence of construction work underway.
However, a second diplomat from a European government said the proposals appeared to be well-advanced and were evidence of "an escalation of Russia's ambitions".
The small, low-flying, 'kamikaze' drones have become an integral part of Russia's attempts to cut water and power supplies to civilians as its military suffers setbacks on the battlefield.
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The devices often loiter low, causing terror in residential areas even before they strike.
Russia is turning increasingly to its alliance with Iran for support in the next phase of the war, although Tehran has denied providing weapons to Moscow.
One foreign government told ITV News it believes that 350 million euros have been transferred from Russia to Iran, following two shipments of drones made during the last few months.
The White House has said that the United States is exploring ways to target production through sanctions and export controls.
But a new site could offer the Iranians deniability by allowing the regime to receive money building drones, which fly under the Russian flag with Cyrillic writing rather than Farsi.
The Ukrainian military claims it shot down a fleet of Shahed-136 and Shahed-131 drones on Wednesday night, after Russia "resumed attacks" using the aerial devices.
"All 24 were destroyed by air defense units and other components of the Defense Forces of Ukraine," according to a tweet posted by the Ukrainian Air Force.
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