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OMEN™ Uncovers Geopolitical Alliances: Iranian Influence in Ukraine

With daily battles in Ukraine, operations foreshadow larger geopolitical threats and alliances. In fall 2022, Russian use of Iranian Shahed-136 drones during 54 events in Ukraine hinted at a shift in the relationship between Moscow and Tehran. While investigating these drones, 3GIMBALS brought to light the growing alliance between Iran and Russia.

Following the flow of military systems, equipment, ammunition, and training personnel, 3GIMBALS’ OMEN™ detected vessel activity, flight manifests, and automated information system (AIS) gaps to highlight activity obfuscation. By tracking flights, corroborating reports of dark target AIS vessel signals, and uncovering significant activity from news and social media feeds, 3GIMBALS confirmed Iran’s alliance with Russia.

  • Going back to April 2022, 3GIMBALS’ OMEN analysis identified five airlines with over 100 flights from Tehran to Moscow with a high probability of transporting cargo and weapons, based on flight tracking data and historical usage patterns. View approximate flight paths in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Five Iranian airlines with history of equipment transport traveled from Tehran to Moscow, April-November 2022.

  • Ships without active AIS, as dark ships, often conceal illicit activity. after higher reported AIS gaps from the Caspian Sea in September 2022, OMEN identified seven Iranian- flagged ships crossing them Caspian Sea to the Russian port of Astrakhan in October. 3GIMBALS also detected a sanctioned Iranian-flagged vessel traveling without AIS from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Ship tracks visible in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Shipment by sea from Iran, September-November 2022.

  • In September and October 2022, news service reporting in English and Russian told the story of Iranian drone trainers observed in Crimea and even killed in Kherson Oblast. Instructor locations in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Iranian drone instructor locations, September-October 2022.

  • Russia and Iran publicly denied cooperation in Ukraine, while the containerized transport and launch of Shahed-136 drones obscured deployments. 3GIMBALS documented the response, as Ukrainian forces circulated images on social media from exploded remains of Shahed-136 drone wings labelled in Cyrillic. Refer to wing tip marking in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Shahed-136 wreckage in Ukraine. Source: © 13 September 2022, @AuroraIntel (Twitter); DOI: 13 September 2022; https://twitter.com/AuroraIntel/status/156957788529979801

  • With information collected from September and November 2022, OMEN™ analysis identified at least 188 Iranian drones launched by Russian forces and exploded on impact in Ukraine, primarily in Mykolaiv, Odesa, and Kyiv. Iran initially denied providing drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine and later reversed course, admitting in November 2022 to the sale prior to the invasion.

Figure 5. Russian use of Iranian drones in Ukraine, September-November 2022.

The crisis in Ukraine raises broader awareness of geopolitical alliances forming, between Russian and Iran in this use case, to destabilize regional security and overturn international order. Unclassified OMEN™ investigations illuminate the disrupting actions of hostile entities seeking to destroy the balance of power. Shareable insights better inform public, political, and diplomatic discourse.

3GIMBALS OMEN™ focuses effort with information fusion and analysis to persistently monitor indicators of activity-delivering an unclassified, near-real time pulse on the war. We explore patterns of life by applying advanced tradecraft with data science methodologies to multi-sensor, spatiotemporal commercial datasets.

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