Biden Administration Sanctions Iranians Behind Drone Supply to Russia

Biden Administration Sanctions Iranians Behind Drone Supply to Russia

Andrew Bernard

Drones are seen during a large-scale drone combat exercise of Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Semnan, Iran January 4, 2021. Picture taken January 4, 2021. Photo: Iranian Army / WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

The US Treasury department on Friday sanctioned seven executives at Iranian aerospace companies responsible for supplying drones to Russia and overseeing Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The Shahed-31 and Shahed-136 drones have been deployed by Russian forces against civilian infrastructure across Ukraine. Nearly 2,000 drones have been delivered from Iran to Russia since last summer.

Qods Aviation Industries (QAI), which is overseen by Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, is the designer and manufacturer of the Mohajer-6 drone. Ukrainian officials say that thousands of Iranian drones have been transferred to Russia, and that Iran is training Russian drone operators. The Treasury Department sanctioned QAI’s Chairman, managing director, and four members of its board.

“The Kremlin’s reliance on suppliers of last resort like Iran shows their desperation in the face of brave Ukrainian resistance and the success of our global coalition in disrupting Russian military supply chains and denying them the inputs they need to replace weapons lost on the battlefield,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin said in a statement. “The United States will act swiftly against individuals and entities supporting Iran’s UAV and ballistic missile programs and will stand resolutely in support of the people of Ukraine.”

Earlier this week, an independent investigation by two Ukrainian media outlets alleged that four Russian officers had visited Iran last August for training at the Kashan military base near the city of Isfahan, which Israel has called “a key point from which Iranian aerial terrorism is exported to the region.”

The four Russian officers all serve with the aviation department of the Russian Defense Ministry, the investigation claimed.

The State Department has noted that Iran is now Russia’s top military backer.

In a separate statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanded that Iran “cease its support for Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine.” Blinken stressed that the US “will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity.”

The seventh individual sanctioned Friday, Nader Khoon Siavash, is the director of Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization, which is the main organization responsible for overseeing Iran’s ballistic missile programs. The Treasury department claims that AIO receives millions in discounted foreign currency ostensibly earmarked for importers of essential goods from Iran’s central bank, prioritizing missile programs at the expense of Iranian citizens.

The sanctions are the latest in a series of Biden administration actions against Iran since negotiations to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the 2015 nuclear deal – stalled in September. Despite Iranian claims that there is still hope for a deal, the Biden administration says it is focused on supporting Iranian protesters and countering Iran’s military partnership with Russia.

Iran’s military alliance with Russia has bolstered Ukrainian demands on Israel to match its humanitarian aid operation with military assistance. Kyiv insists that Iran’s belligerent position towards Israel is enough reason for Jerusalem to change its policy on this front.

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