Construction progresses at Russian plant for Iranian drones - report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Satellite imagery shows progress in the construction in Russia of a plant that will mass produce Iranian-designed kamikaze drones that Moscow is expected to target against Ukrainian energy facilities, a research organization said on Monday.

Despite the headway, neither the United States nor its allies have imposed sanctions on the plant's owner, JSC Alabuga, or its associated companies, said the Institute for Science and International Security report.

The White House, the Russian embassy and Iran's U.N. mission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The report said a mid-September satellite image showed that new construction at the plant "directly" correlated with a leaked building floor plan that the Washington Post shared with the institute earlier this year.

The building, according to other leaked documents, will be used for the mass production of Iran's Shahed-136 that will include improving Iranian fabrication processes "and ultimately advancing the drone's capabilities," the report said.

The satellite image also showed the construction of other structures and new security perimeters with checkpoints, the report said.

"With winter fast approaching ... Russia can be expected to accelerate its Shahed-136 attacks against Ukraine's vital energy infrastructure, causing brutal living conditions for the civilian population," the report said.

"A key overdue step" is for Washington to sanction Alabuga and its associated companies, the report continued.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy on Sunday warned his country to prepare for Russian strikes on energy infrastructure. Last winter - about 10 months into its invasion - Russia unleashed waves of such attacks, prompting rolling blackouts.

The plant is located 500 miles (800 km) east of Moscow in the Tartarstan Republic. Alabuga JSC is 66 percent owned by the federal government and 34 percent by the republic, the report said.

The White House in June said Russia and Iran appeared to be deepening their defense cooperation and that in addition to supplying drones, Tehran was working with Moscow to produce Iranian drones in Alabuga.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Sandra Maler)