Journalists have found where and when Iranians could teach Russians to fly drones destroying Ukrainian cities. The Nashi Hroshi. Lviv has identified these Russian operators and found their families.
This is stated in the joint video material of Slidstvo.Info and Nashi Hroshi. Lviv. The video has English subtitles.
In August this year, Russian military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) teams took part in the Falconry competition. Teams from Russia, Belarus, Iran and Armenia competed in artillery fire adjustment, reconnaissance, shooting and physical training. Behind the scenes, however, Iran was likely training Russian instructors and operators of the Shahed kamikaze drones.
Recently, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that Russians are preparing a new drone attack from the occupied Crimea. Russian and Iranian UAV operators are training in Sevastopol.
On August 13, Russia for the first time attacked civilian objects of Ukraine with Shahed drones. According to Israeli military expert David Handelman, they are “a cheaper substitute for expensive cruise missiles”.
A deliberate attack on civilian objects is a war crime, which Russia has already committed about 400 times with the help of kamikaze drones and does not plan to stop, as it has ordered another batch of drones from Iran.
All attacks have faces: drone flights are controlled by operators. To find out who they are and where they are trained, we had to recreate the entire cycle of training for Russian military unmanned aerial vehicles, analyze and compare the events in Iran and Russia.
“THE MESSAGE OF PEACE, FRIENDSHIP AND COOPERATION”
“Falconry” is one of the disciplines of the Army Games, an annual military game invented by Russia with “fun starts” (transl. – the name for a sports competition popular among schoolchildren) for representatives of different branches of the armed forces, similar to a biathlon for tank forces. With this game, Russia tries to raise the authority of its army and show support to the world, attracting partner countries such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe. This is enough to call the competition “international” and its winners – “champions” or “winners of the world championship”.
The Army Games have been held in August-September for eight years and “Falconry Hunt” appeared in their program only in 2017. The podium of the Falconry Hunt can serve as a kind of litmus test of Russia’s relations with the participating countries.
For example, Kazakhstan has closely cooperated with Russia in previous years, and the last four competitions were held in Kazakhstan, and Kazakh drone operators won as many times. Now they are not even among the participants. Perhaps Russia was offended by Kazakhstan for refusing to help destroy Ukraine.
Instead, this year Armenia “willingly” took part in the competition, which may be due to the recent escalation of the Karabakh conflict, in which Russia traditionally sided with Yerevan. The drone operators of the debutant country even took third place, and the victory was shared by the Russian and Iranian teams.
Iran, although it was a regular participant of the competition and always took the last place in the tournament, this year for the first time not only won, but also acted as the organizer.
“The purpose of holding the international military competition in 2022 is to convey the message of peace, friendship and cooperation of the Islamic Republic of Iran with other countries of the world to fight global terrorism and factors that make the world dangerous, as well as to increase the level of readiness, combat power and transfer military experience and achievements in the unmanned field to friendly countries,” said General Sardar Ali Bilali, Senior Advisor to the Commander of the Iranian Air Force, during the opening ceremony of the competition.
THE COMPETITION VENUE CAN BE CHANGED
In 2022, the Falconry tournament lasted from August 15 to 27. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, it took place at an airport near the city of Isfahan, where the 8th Air Base of the Iranian Air Force is located. This is the largest military airfield in the country, which is also the main repair and training center. However, Iranian media named a different location for the “Falconry”: an airport near the city of Kashan.
Kashan is located on the edge of the Maranjab Desert, 200 km from Isfahan. In the suburbs of Kashan, along with the oldest civilian airport in Iran, there is a top-secret air base. More precisely, it used to be top secret – last year it was exposed. Then Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz called it the heart of Iranian unmanned aviation and a training center for UAV operators. According to the Israeli minister, foreign terrorists, in particular, from Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, are trained here. Based on the data obtained, Gantz accused Iran of spreading “drone terrorism” in the region.
A month before the start of the “Falconry”, the Russian delegation visited the Kashan base at least twice, where the Iranians demonstrated Shahed attack drones. This was stated in July by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan:
“Our information indicates that Iran is preparing to urgently deliver hundreds of aircraft, including attack drones, to Russia.”
Sullivan released satellite images of the Kashan airbase taken during the Russians’ visit and added that Iran is likely to conduct kamikaze drone training for them in July.
Then Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in a telephone conversation with Dmytro Kuleba denied the sale of kamikaze drones to Russia. He said that the statement of the White House is a slander that pursues “specific political goals”. And only in early November Iran admitted the sale of “Shahed”, but only a small batch and before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
However, officials in the US government told “The Washington Post” somewhat different information. They say that Iran delivered the first batch of “Shahed” kamikaze drones and “Mohajer” strike drones to Russia much later, namely on August 19. That is, already during the “Falconry”. At the same time, the Islamic Republic demonstrated its arsenal of drones in action.
150 DRONES OF 1401 AD
On August 24-25, the Iranian military conducted a large-scale training of UAV operators “Drone Exercise 1401”. The number here means the year – it is 1401 in Iran, according to our calendar it is 2022.
The two-day training, which coincided with the Russian war games, according to its spokesman, Admiral Seyyed Mahmoud Mousavi, demonstrates Iran’s ability to “build, operate, design and use all types of unmanned aerial vehicles”.
And during the stage of “Drone Exercise 1401” in Isfahan, Deputy Commander of the Iranian Army Admiral Habibollah Sayyari even mentioned Ukraine in his speech:
“Today, drones are a new phenomenon. Recently, their effectiveness in crisis situations has been proven, for example, in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Karabakh, the war between Ukraine and Russia”.
The exercise involved 150 reconnaissance, surveillance, combat and strike drones. The work of “Shahed” kamikaze drones was also demonstrated.
Although the exercise was held throughout Iran, most of the events took place in Isfahan. The photos from both Isfahan and Kashan were posted in his VKontakte by a member of the Russian UAV operators team.
This is 36-year-old Sergei Sozinov, who serves in the city of Kolomna, where the main military center of unmanned aviation of the Russian Federation is located. He did not want to comment on his visit to Iran – he hung up as soon as he found out the subject of the conversation.
But we learned that he and his family have been living in Kolomna since 2015. It was here that Sozinov renewed his passport and registered in 2021. The courier service of SDEK still delivers parcels to him at the address: “str. Lartsevy Polyany, 44, apartment 30”.
He was born on January 4, 1986 in the village of Pasehovo, Kirov region. Sozinov is an athletic man. On his page in the social network there are many photos from marathons and competitions. There are two e-mail addresses attached to Sergei’s phone, one of them email@example.com, told us the former address of the user – Naro-Fominsk near Moscow, where the 4th Guards Kantemirovka Division is stationed.
Probably, at one time Sozinov was in charge of physical training there. And the soldiers of the Kantemirovka Division are regular participants of the Army Games, in particular the “tank biathlon”. The division’s training ground in the village of Holovenky is a training ground for teams of all military formations. In VKontakte, Sozinov and his wife Marina have a lot of photos from the tank fun.
According to the regulations of the competition “Falconry”, the team of each country consists of no more than 13 people. We managed to identify four of the Russian representatives who came to the competition in Iran. All of them, like Sergei Sozinov, are from Kolomna and are servicemen of the 924th State Center for Unmanned Aviation of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
The center is the main “forge” of drone operators for the Russian army. Not only does it train specialists “to maintain and work with UAV complexes of both domestic and foreign developments”, but also tests all types of drones before they are put into service with the Russian army:
“If necessary, the center’s specialists, together with industry enterprises, refine the UAV complexes undergoing testing,” the Ministry of Defense of the aggressor country adds.
It was on the basis of the 924th Center that the final qualifying stage of the Falconry Hunt in Russia was held in previous years. Its winners represented the country in the international arena. Servicemen of the Kolomna center also participated in the qualifying stages, but as judges. This year, the selections were also held, but unlike in previous years, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation did not announce the winners.
A still image from the video of the competition in Iran shows a captain of the Russian Air Force Andrey Stepovoi. He is 31 years old, born on September 25, 1991 in the village of Novotroitske, Voronezh Oblast. Since childhood, Stepovoy dreamed of a career as a military pilot, just like his mother.
“This is my future senior lieutenant!”, his mother Natalia signed his childhood photo in VKontakte.
Stepovoy began to realize his dream at the Voronezh Air Force Academy, which trains engineering officers for aviation of all types and branches of the armed forces. He graduated in 2014. A photo report from Andrey’s graduation is available in VKontakte of his friend Oleksandr, who came with his wife to support his comrade.
“It was like I was at home,” – the graduate rejoiced under one of the photos.
By the way, in VKontakte, the UAV operator has the ID “andros_009” and hides under the name “Ivanov”.
Andrey Stepovoy with friends. Voronezh, 2014. Photo from a friend’s VKontakte
And since 2018, the close-knit Stepovoys family has been regularly visiting their son and brother in Kolomna. Andrey’s mother willingly shares photos of their trips in her VKontakte profile.
“Mom’s pride!” – Andrey’s aunt Lyudmila comments on the photo.
While living in Kolomna, Stepovoy bought a car and the documents indicate the address of the 924th Center as his place of residence – Artillerists’ passage, 5.
“A SPECIALIST IN SIDE JUMPS!”
Another member of the Russian UAV crew received Russian citizenship only in 2009. Gleb Pivkin was born on November 1, 1995 in Turkmenistan, but in 2007 the Pivkin family moved to Russia and settled in Kolomna.
Nothing foretold that Gleb would connect his life with the army. As a teenager, he played guitar and was fond of parkour. “My son is a specialist in side jumps!” – his father wrote on his Odnoklassniki page.
Pivkin met his future wife Alyona at school. After the school graduation they went to settle in Ryazan together. They studied at the Agrotechnological University, which trains specialists in the agricultural industry. We wanted to find out what wind brought agronomist Pivkin to the 924th Center of Unmanned Aviation, but he did not answer any of his phones.
By the way, back in 2012, Gleb’s mother Marina and sister Ekaterina were on vacation in the Ukrainian capital. Marina generously boasted of Kyiv landscapes on her page in the social network, where she even created a special album “Walks in Kyiv”.
CRYPTOCURRENCY AND A WIFE FROM SUMY
“What Iran? This is the first time I’ve heard about any “Shahids”! I work in cryptocurrency. I am not liable for military service, I do not serve, I do not work in any military organization”, – Lieutenant of the Air Force Yevgeniy Glukhov convinced our journalist by phone.
But it is exactly him on the video from Iran.
25-year-old Yevgeniy Glukhov was born on January 18, 1997 in Volgograd. It is not known what happened to Yevgeniy’s parents, and in 2011 he and his brother Sergei were taken in by his uncle’s family living in Moscow. The boys’ uncle, Nikolai Fedotov, is a strict and serious man. He is a lieutenant colonel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and his chest is decorated with an iconostasis of medals.
Fedotov sent both nephews along the familiar military path. The elder Sergei settled in the Rosgvardia, and Evgeniy from the 9th grade studied at the Cadet Boarding School with initial flight training, which was then located in the village of Monino near Moscow. Here, in addition to the school curriculum, the cadets studied special disciplines, practiced on flight simulators and underwent flight practice in Serpukhov near Moscow.
In 2015, during his graduation, Evgeniy already had badges of a parachutist of the 3rd class and for piloting, which means that he had flown about 15 hours.
Immediately after graduating from the boarding school, Glukhov entered the Air Force Academy in Voronezh, where his colleague Andrey Stepovoy is a graduate.
“I continue to serve Russia,” Uncle Nikolai signed a photo with the newly-made cadet on his Odnoklassniki page.
In January this year, Glukhov got married. His chosen one was Maria Serebrova from Sumy. In one of the numerous VKontakte accounts, the Ukrainian wife of the Russian military is even under the pseudonym ” Sumskaya”. According to Mariia, she studied to be a gynecologist at the Medical Institute of Sumy State University, but the medicine did not work out, so in 2018 she received a degree in acting at the Russian State Institute of Cinematography. After the wedding, Maria is waiting for her husband from an Iranian and probably Ukrainian business trip in Kolomna.
But the “cryptocurrency business” was not as successful as Glukhov’s military career. According to the Federal Bailiff Service, he has a considerable debt for utilities in a Volgograd apartment – two years ago it reached 70 thousand rubles (about 20 thousand UAH). According to the fiscal authorities, the actual place of residence of the debtor is the 924th Center.
The competition “Falconry”, which was won by the Russian-Iranian friendship, ended on August 27, and two weeks after the competition, Russia attacked Ukraine for the first time with kamikaze drones “Shahed”.
The material was prepared with the support of the Internews Network. The material reflects the position of the editorial board and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Internews Network.