Iran Probably Delivers Some Aid to Russia through Caspian Sea, Including Shahed Drones – CNN

Friday, 26 May 2023

The Caspian Sea is likely one of the main routes from Iran to Russia for Iranian-made attack drones and other support that Tehran provides to the Kremlin due to the war against Ukraine and Western sanctions.

CNN journalists spoke with experts who track the cargo movement, and based on available data, they assume that a significant portion of Shahed drones, mortar rounds, and other weapons that Russia buys from Iran for the war against Ukraine may move through this route.

Cargo traffic data shows that cargo ships in the Caspian are increasingly turning off their transponders (an automatic identification system that is usually kept on), suggesting that they have reasons for secrecy.

Thus, according to Lloyd's List Intelligence, the number of vessels in the Caspian Sea that hide data about their movements has increased significantly since September. These are mainly ships under the Russian and Iranian flags, among which there are many vessels that, according to their technical characteristics, are suitable for the transportation of military goods.


Most often, vessels in the Caspian turn off the automatic identification system near the Iranian ports of Amirabad and Anzali, as well as on the Russian Volga and near the port of Astrakhan.

Using data from MarineTraffic, CNN tracked six Russian-flagged and two Iranian-flagged ships that, according to the assumptions of the interviewed analysts, are behaving suspiciously. They noticed certain regularities, such as ships that can go from Iranian ports to Astrakhan, Russia, but do not enter the port officially there; some ships turn off data transmission on the approach to Amirabad and Astrakhan; or they generally move for a long time with turned off transponders.


CNN also analysed Flightradar24 information and found that Iranian cargo aircraft made at least 85 flights to Russia between May 2022 and March 2023.

According to analysts, although some of the Iranian Shahed drones could be brought to Russia by aircraft, the sea route is much more profitable as it allows transporting a much larger cargo at once.

In mid-May, the White House reported that Iran continues to provide Russia with attack drones for the war against Ukraine.

Officially, Tehran has admitted that it supplied Russia with a small batch of kamikaze drones before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. But the media have repeatedly described how Moscow obtains weapons from Iran.

According to Ukrainian estimates, Russia has already used more than 400 Shahed-136 drones in Ukraine and is thought to have ordered 2,400 such drones in total. Initially, they posed a problem for Ukrainian air defence, but in recent attacks, all or almost all of them have been destroyed.

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