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Polish Perceptions of Iran:
Changes Brought About by the War in Ukraine

By Aleksandra Kubacka

Poland has played a major role in providing Kiev with advanced military equipment to help Ukraine combat Iranian ‘kamikaze’ drones used by Russia against Ukrainian civilian and military targets. On 2 January 2023, Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, warned about Russia’s planned campaign of attacks with Iranian-made Shahed drones against Ukraine and added that his country shot down nearly 90 Shahed drones in just the first two days of the year. Poland’s support for Kiev against Iran’s involvement in the Russian invasion changed what had remained historically cordial relations between Poland and Iran. 

According to Professor Przemysław Osiewicz, Polish-Iranian relations were good or very good regardless of internal and external conditions mainly due to the significant geographical distance and therefore no major divergences. [1] However, this ceased to be of crucial importance in the era of globalisation, resulting in the growing interdependence of all countries and cross-border threats. Nevertheless, during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani (2013-2021), ‘despite Poland’s strong foreign policy ties with NATO and the EU, and very close relations with the United States, the Polish authorities successfully maintained friendly relations with Iran.’ [2] But the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 has also potentially blighted Polish relations with Iran.


Russian-Iranian ‘Strategic Partnership’

Iran’s initially cautious attitude and lack of condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were a consequence of the Russian-Iranian ‘strategic partnership’ developed since 2001 and based around a common aversion towards the US and NATO. Iran played a major role in providing support for Moscow’s client state, Syria, during that country’s civil war. More recently, Iran, despite its official neutral position on Ukraine, now openly supports Russia in its operations there. Since at least September 2022, Russia has been deploying Iranian-made unmanned systems to attack Ukraine, defence sources say. 

‘This information was confirmed by earlier US intelligence reports on negotiations between Russia and Iran on the supply of reconnaissance drones and loitering ammunition (kamikaze drones),’ according to The Polish Institute of International Affairs.[3] Furthermore, in October 2022, ‘there were also US reports of planned deliveries of short-range ballistic missiles from Iran to Russia.’[4] The evidence of the use of Iranian drones by Russian soldiers fits Iranian propaganda rhetoric that the war in Ukraine is an attack by the West on Russia.

According to the analyst of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, Dr Marcin Andrzej Piotrowski, the 2011 joint intervention in the civil war in Syria culminated in growing cooperation between Iran and Russia. In addition to their shared anti-Americanism, both countries are trying to curb Turkish influence in the Middle East and the South Caucasus, and Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Piotrowski states that in the light of this, Iran's help to Russia in the war on Ukraine should not come as a surprise. [5]

Weapons supplied from Iran do little to improve Russia’s tenuous military situation. However, Iranian drones have enabled Russia to kill civilians and destroy civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, aiming at important facilities, including water and electricity supplies. [6] The use of Iranian drones has also facilitated Russia’s ability to increase the scale of its attack and put the Ukrainian army in a more difficult, defensive, situation where Ukrainian soldiers are forced to split their attention and must focus on their counter-offensive while, simultaneously, deploying anti-aircraft assets around civilian facilities throughout the country.

According to the National Resistance Center, a website run by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Iranian military advisers have also been sent to the Ukrainian front to train Russian soldiers to use modern equipment.[7] Iranian advisers taught Russian soldiers how to use kamikaze drones, and how to conduct attacks on Ukraine on their own. As reported by the Institute for the Study of War, Iranian advisers might belong to the specialised para-military formation, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). [8]

According to the Ukrinform portal (in December 2022) adviser to the Ukrainian President, Mykhailo Podolak, stated that, Iran also intends to give Russia hundreds of missiles in exchange for providing military technology, possibly nuclear. Podolak highlighted that in the face of this information, the military collaboration between Tehran and Moscow poses a threat to global security. [9]

Poland's Attitude towards Iran’s Support for Russia

Iran’s support for Russian operations in Ukraine did not go unnoticed in Poland. On 19 October 2022, Polish President, Andrzej Duda, held a telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi where ‘The leaders addressed bilateral issues and discussed the current international situation.’ [10] During the conversation Duda underlined a ‘very clear position’ on the reports about the sale of drones from Iran to Russia, meaning that ‘Poland intends to actively counteract any arms purchases by Russia,’ from Iran, according to a Polish presidential source. [11]

The same month, Ukrainian forces used Soviet-era weapons provided by Poland to shoot down Iranian drones and ‘in two days, the Ukrainian air defence squadron downed nine out of eleven Shahed-136 UAVs launched by the enemy military,’ using weapons supplied from Poland, as reported by Radio Poland. [12] The Commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, officially thanked Poland on Facebook. 

‘It was Poland that provided the kits from which — using Soviet missiles — the Ukrainians shoot down Iranian drones launched by the Russians. These are the realities of today's war. Thank you Polish brothers!’ [13]

Mariusz Cielma, editor-in-chief of Nowa Technika Wojskowa (a Polish magazine on general military topics) noted that weapons delivered from Poland to Ukraine are modernised OSA anti-aircraft systems. They have been digitalised and equipped with modern cameras, enabling target tracking without using radar and thus revealing one's position. In the clash with Iranian drones, they turned out to be very efficient. [14]

In Poland, both in political circles and within the wider society, there is an acute awareness of the danger posed by Russia due to the enduring rivalry between the countries. Poland has a long term threat perception of Russia shaped by numerous invasions, such as the partitions of Poland in the 18th century and the annexation of Polish lands by Russia during World War II. The most recent example was following World War II when Poland was forcibly incorporated into the Warsaw Pact (re: the Eastern Bloc) and for almost half a century was under communist rule that was not democratically elected but dependent on the Soviet Union under Russian control. Russia under Putin seems interested to again try and force the countries of Central and Eastern Europe into an unwanted dependency with it.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine nearly a year ago, Poland has supported Ukraine and unequivocally opposes the war and what Warsaw sees as Russian imperialism. By helping Russia, Iran is supporting a country that invaded Ukraine with the objective of snatching away its sovereignty. Against this background, Poland sees Iran’s involvement as a disturbing though not wholly unexpected sign of Russia’s efforts to garner support from other totalitarian regimes. However, Warsaw has moved quickly to provide Ukraine with technology to neutralise the threat from Iran and Polish intelligence services continue to monitor Iranian activity in the conflict with a view of supporting future actions against Tehran if necessary. 


*Aleksandra Kubacka is a Master in Polish Philology (University of Warsaw).

27 January 2023


[1] Przemysław Osiewicz, ‘Poland-Iran relations during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani: An analysis of selected external determinants’, SİYASAL: Journal of Political Sciences, 31, Special Issue on Polish Foreign Policy in 21st Century (2022):175–184.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Marcin Andrzej Piotrowski, ‘Dostawy uzbrojenia z Iranu do Rosji - konsekwencje militarne i polityczne’, Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych, 4 November 2022,

[4] Ibid.

[5] ‘Protesty w Iranie trwają. Doprowadzą do upadku systemu?’, Polska Agencja Prasowa, 25 December 2022,

[6] ‘Kijów potwierdza: na Krymie zginęli irańscy instruktorzy, szkolili Rosjan w obsłudze dronów,’ 25 November 2022,

[7] Wojciech Kubik, ‘Polska broń masakruje irańskie drony. Generał ujawnia, jak po cichu na front mogą docierać islamscy doradcy wojskowi,’ 17 October 2022,

[8] ‘ISW: Rosja mogła sprowadzić na Ukrainę personel z irańskiego Korpusu Strażników Rewolucji Islamskiej’ Polska Agencja Prasowa, 13 October 2022,

[9] ‘Iran staje się głównym partnerem wojskowym Rosji,’ Defence24, 12 December 2022,

[10] ‘Rozmowa telefoniczna z Prezydentem Islamskiej Republiki Iranu,’ 19 October 2022,,60090.

[11] ‘Prezydenci Polski i Iranu odbyli rozmowę. Andrzej Duda miał przekazać "bardzo jasne stanowisko" nt. sprzedaży dronów Rosji,’ 19 October 2022,

[12] ‘Ukraińcy używają polskiego sprzętu do strącania irańskich dronów. "Dziękuję polskim braciom!"’, Polskie Radio, 12 October 2022,,Ukraincy-uzywaja-polskiego-sprzetu-do-stracania-iranskich-dronow-Dziekuje-polskim-braciom

[13] Ibid.

[14] Wojciech Kubik, ‘Polska broń masakruje irańskie drony.’ 

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