28th Jan 2023

Iran has joined Russia axis on Ukraine war, EU says

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New EU sanctions on Iran make clear that it has joined Russia's war against Ukraine by supplying lethal drones to Moscow.

The EU is planning to add three Iranian military commanders and one entity to its blacklist of more than 1,200 Russians and Ukrainian quislings responsible for the invasion.

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"The Iranian regime provides military support for Russia's unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine" via "development and delivery of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to Russia" the EU's draft sanctions notice, seen by EUobserver said.

The three Iranians to face a visa-ban and asset-freeze include major-general Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, who is the chief of staff of Iran's armed forces.

They also include general Sayed Hojatollah Qureishi, responsible for military research, and brigadier-general Saeed Aghajani, Iran's air-force chief.

The EU sanctions paper said Bagheri "plays a fundamental role in Iran's defence cooperation with the Russian Federation" and that he personally oversaw the building of an "Ababil-2" drone factory in Tajikistan and the supply of "Mohajer-6" UAVs to Moscow.

It said Qureishi was "responsible for negotiating the agreement" on Russia drone exports and described Aghjani as "the backbone of Iran's unmanned aerial vehicles programme".

The EU also aims to sanction Iran's Shahed Aviation Industries, which is "responsible for the design and development of the Shahed series" of killer drones.

The sanctions are still to be agreed by EU diplomats before they enter into force.

They come after Iranian-made kamikaze drones flying out of Russia rained down on civilian targets in Ukraine this week.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the Iranian foreign minister had personally given him "categorical denials" of Iran's involvement in the war in phone calls between the two top diplomats.

The EU, earlier this week, also blacklisted 11 Iranian officials and four entities linked to the lethal crackdown on protesters, who came out on the streets after police beat to death a 22-year old woman, Mahsa Amini, for not wearing a headscarf.

The fraying EU-Iran relations come amid stalled efforts to revive a nuclear non-proliferation deal with Tehran.

The war in Ukraine has also drawn China as well as Iran into an axis of closer cooperation with Russia against the West, but China has stopped short of supplying weapons to Russian president Vladimir Putin, for now.

Reflecting on the new dividing lines in geopolitics, Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the emerging Russia-China-Iran axis posed a challenge for EU interests in future.

Borrell's office recently drafted a reflection paper, seen by EUobserver and Pantucci, on China and Russia's new strategic alliance.

"It might also have been useful to consider Iran within this partnership as it plays an interesting role," he said.

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