Vitalii Portnikov

Ukraine: A Testing Ground for Iran

At the onset of Russia’s war against Ukraine, when Russia began to extensively deploy Iranian drones not only on the battlefield but also to destroy civilian infrastructure, I warned my Israeli colleagues that this was not just about aiding the Kremlin. Certainly, Iran is interested in Russia’s military success, primarily to weaken Western nations and demonstrate that dictatorship can achieve success through force. Money, technology, and political support are also key objectives. However, the war in Ukraine provided Iran with an unprecedented opportunity to use the country as a testing ground for its weaponry on live targets and real infrastructure.

In Israel, these claims were always met with skepticism, and a direct connection to the war in Ukraine and escalation in the Middle East was denied. However, there were numerous examples of this link. Iranians readily supplied their drones to the Russians and worked on improving them. While drones were always plentiful, Iranians hesitated to supply ballistic and cruise missiles due to limited quantities of this weaponry. They even hesitated when Russia faced an obvious missile shortage and was willing to pay. But Iran was preparing for another war and feared running out of missiles. This should have been a significant signal for Israel. Yet it was not. The war in Ukraine continued to be viewed as a conflict happening somewhere else. Russia was primarily seen as a country whose influence in Syria needed to be considered. And nothing more.

It must be acknowledged that Western policymakers have made and continue to make the same mistake, failing to believe in the globalization of the Russo-Ukrainian war. They do not consider that Moscow, Tehran, and Pyongyang (with Beijing lurking in the shadows of its allies) may coordinate their actions to destabilize situations in various regions of the world, employing a tactic of “death by a thousand cuts” to weaken the West. Those who attempt to bundle aid to the victims of the “axis of evil” into a single package, such as President Biden, find themselves misunderstood even by their own lawmakers.

This string of mistakes has already led to the most significant outcome – the loss of fear. Terrorist organizations and authoritarian states no longer fear reprisal. They now prefer to strike first and consider the consequences later because the consequences no longer seem inevitable or catastrophic.

About the Author
Vitalii Portnikov is a Ukrainian publicist, writer, TV presenter and member of the Ukrainian PEN. He is also an author and renowned journalist working in democratic media in Central and Eastern Europe for more than three decades. He is the author of hundreds of analytical articles in Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Russian, Israeli, Baltic media. He hosts television programs and his own analytical channels on YouTube. He is currently broadcasting at the office of the Espreso TV channel and continues to cooperate with the Ukrainian and Russian services of Radio Liberty.