MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: a troubling alliance.
When military drones began raining down on civilian targets in Ukraine, it quickly became clear that those drones were not made in Russia but in Iran.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And British intelligence now believes that Russia is trying to obtain “hundreds of ballistic missiles” from Iran.
How big a concern is this alliance of adversaries to the West?
Joining us now is John Hardie. He is a policy analyst on Russia at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
REICHARD: John, good morning!
JOHN HARDIE, GUEST: Good morning. Great to be with you.
REICHARD: John, explain what kinds of missiles we’re talking about here, and what would the significance of this be, if the reports are true?
HARDIE: Sure. So, we’re talking about a few different types of things. What Russia has gotten so far consists of two perhaps three types of drones. We know about two for sure. The most common one is the Shahed 136, and its slightly smaller cousin to Shahed 131. These are essentially what are commonly known in the press as suicide drones, kamikaze drones. Basically you're firing them as a poor man's cruise missile. Russia has used them extensively against mostly fixed targets, including Ukrainian energy infrastructure as part of a strategic air campaign to try to take out Ukraine's energy grid, and other critical infrastructure, water, heating, etc. Russia is also seeking, as you just mentioned, short-range ballistic missiles from Iran. There are two different types of missiles Russia wants. But basically, these would supplement its own stockpile of SRBMs, which are running low at the moment.
REICHARD: Russia’s been firing missiles into Ukraine and largely at civilian infrastructure as you mentioned. Do these reports suggest that Russia’s stockpiles of missiles are thinning out somewhat?
HARDIE: I think conservation is definitely an issue and it has been for many months now. If you look at the missile usage rates now versus the first few days of the war moving into the first few weeks, they've really plummeted. So whereas Russia might in the first couple days, maybe fire 100 missiles a day, as many as a few hundred during the very first days, and then maybe, you know, 50-60, as many as 100 a day for the first few weeks. Now we're talking about maybe that many missiles in one week. So it's usually an iterative process where Russia is taking a while to play on a particular strike. And then watching it, again, primarily targeting the Ukrainian energy grid. We're not seeing day after day of mass missile strikes.
REICHARD: Some people might be surprised to hear that Iran has hundreds of ballistic missiles. How well armed is Iran in this regard?
HARDIE: So, Iran, for decades now, they’ve poured a lot of resources into drones and missile programs, really to compensate for conventional weakness that they turn to these kind of asymmetric tools. So Iran does have a lot of different types of missiles—cruise and ballistic. The two types they're going after here are said to be fairly accurate. We've never seen them used in a battlefield like Ukraine. So it remains to be seen how they fare. But Ukraine really doesn't have much in the way of ballistic missile defenses. Ukraine really isn't able to shoot down very many of Russia's own Russian made Iskander SRBMs. And I suspect it would not fare very well against the Iranian ones either.
REICHARD: As Russia becomes more desperate for allies, is there any chance that Moscow might decide to aid Iran with its nuclear program?
HARDIE: Well, so Russia has aided Iran’s civilian nuclear program for a while now. I think there've already been indications that Russia and Iranian conventional military cooperation is increasing. Russia reportedly supplied Iran with some captured Western military equipment in exchange for the Iranian support for Russia. There's also most recently been a claim by the United States that the Russians may be looking at providing Iran with the SU-35 fighter jet. So I think all indications are that this military cooperative relationship is going to deepen as Moscow really doubles down on this partnership.
REICHARD: Ukraine recently asked for more air defenses. John, what do they need — or need more of — that they don’t already have?
HARDIE: Right, so I’d say one category is interceptor missiles for their Soviet-made missile defenses, particularly the Buk M1 systems, the medium range system. If Ukraine were to run out of these interceptors, that really would be a big problem. And from all indications, the stocks are running a bit low. Ukraine also needs everything from MANPADS— these are portable man-launched missiles that you can use to take down helicopters, low flying fighter jets, what have you. And then Ukraine has also been getting various Western air defense systems from things like NASAMS, they're fixed, designed to protect key sites in a city to mobile systems that are particularly useful against the Shahed Iranian drones.
REICHARD: Well we’re coming into really cold weather. How do you see this war changing in the cold winter months ahead?
HARDIE: Right, so I think the fall rainy season has already slowed down offensive activity somewhat. I think that the cold winter weather will probably do a bit of the same, although when the ground freezes during the winter, that does open up mobility for wheeled vehicles to some extent. So, we could see kind of an uptick there. But it will make logistics, I think, for both sides a bit tougher. I think Ukraine has an advantage in the sense that it has superior morale, it really has throughout the conflict. And Ukraine is getting supplied with Western-supplied cold weather gear, whereas we know many of the Russian mobilized troops lack that sort of equipment. And so Ukraine's advantage and morale could really increase in the coming months.
REICHARD: John Hardie is with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. John, thanks so much for your time!
HARDIE: Thank you!
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