Allegations Against Iran: Drone Sales to Russia

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council

October 25, 2022

On Tuesday, October 18, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani denied allegations of Iran supplying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to Russia amid operations against Ukraine. However, the United States, Ukraine, and the European Union defended the authenticity of these claims, vocalizing that Iran has violated the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 and calling for responsive action. The following day, European Union ambassadors agreed to place new sanctions against Tehran. These developments have invoked concern over deepening Iranian-Russian relations and its implications within the region and beyond.

The Ukrainian military declared that it has shot down over 220 Iranian-made drones since September 13, many of which targeted Ukrainian power stations, as well as other infrastructure. Written in Al Arabiya, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that “we saw again Russia’s targeted attacks against civilian infrastructure. This is marking another chapter in an already very cruel war. The international order is very clear. These are war crimes.”

However, Iran rejected allegations that Iranian-made drones were used against Ukraine in the Russia-Ukraine war and blamed European countries for falsifying these claims for their own personal benefit. According to Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani: “We reject groundless claims that drones were supplied [by Iran] to be used in the Ukraine war…We have always stressed that all UN members should fully abide by the objectives and principles of the UN Charter and international law, namely the independence and territorial integrity of countries. We support peace and an immediate end to the war in Ukraine through a political process… The Iranian nation will never forget that some European countries which make claims against Iran are accessories to the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein as they sent him weapons of mass destruction, including chemical arms, during the Iraqi imposed war against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The United States, France, and the United Kingdom discussed this Iranian-Russian arms cooperation at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday, October 19. According to Egypt Independent, all “three countries said that the transfer of Iranian-made drones is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which restricts certain arm transfers to or from Iran.”

Following their closed meeting, U.S. Mission to the UN Spokesperson Nate Evans expressed anticipation that these concerns will prevail in future conversations at the UN. Publicized in the US Mission to the UN website, the three parties involved concluded that “there is ample evidence that Russia is using iranian-made UAVs in cruel and deliberate attacks against the people of Ukraine, including against civilians and critical civilian infrastructure. By procuring these weapons in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions Russia continues to flout international law in its pursuit of a senseless and brutal war against Ukraine.”

That same day, the European Union unanimously decided to place new sanctions on Iran. The EU agreed to blacklist Shahed Aviation Industries, the prominent Iranian drone manufacturer, as well as senior Iranian military commanders. This coincides with additional sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes. Highlighted in Arab News, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis asserted that, “if Iran walks like a duck, talks like a duck and admits to supplying drones to the biggest duck in the world then I think we have enough evidence to say that Iran is a duck. Let’s sanction the duck out of them.” 

Despite the fury of dissent against Iran’s collaboration with Russia, on October 23, Tehran announced a gas collaboration contract with Moscow, bluntly displaying enduring cooperation, extending beyond military aid. According to Aawsat, Iran will supply Russia “with 40 turbines to help its gas industry amid Western sanctions over Moscow’s war in Ukraine…Iran’s ‘industrial successes are not limited to the fields of missiles and drones,’ Iranian Gas Engineering and Development Company’s CEO, Reza Noushadi [said]…‘Currently, 85 percent of the facilities and equipment needed by the gas industry are built inside the country, and based on this capability, a contract has recently been signed to export 40 Iranian-made turbines to Russia,’ he added.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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