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EU Readies Sanctions on Iran for Supplying Drones to Russia

FILE - In this photo released by the Iranian army on Aug. 24, 2022, drones are prepared for launch during a drone drill in Iran.
FILE - In this photo released by the Iranian army on Aug. 24, 2022, drones are prepared for launch during a drone drill in Iran.

The European Union on Wednesday readied new sanctions on Iran over its supply of drones to Russia as the U.N. Security Council met to discuss the unmanned attacks that have caused destruction in Ukraine.

The United States, France and Britain requested the closed-door Security Council discussion to voice alarm over the drone shipments, which Western officials say violate a U.N. resolution, although Russia holds veto power to block any new sanctions bid.

Ukraine has for weeks reported attacks by Russia with Iranian Shahed-136 drones — unmanned aircraft whose warheads explode in suicide attacks — and has moved to cut relations with Tehran.

Iran and Russia have both denied the use of the drones, with Tehran saying it wants talks with Ukraine. But the European Union said Wednesday that it had confirmed that Iran supplied the drones to Russia.

Nabila Massrali, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, said the bloc had "gathered our own evidence" and would prepare "a clear, swift and firm EU response."

A list seen by AFP showed the bloc planned sanctions on three senior military officials, including General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iran's armed forces.

The sanctions, set to be approved Thursday before an EU summit in Brussels, would also hit drone maker Shahed Aviation Industries, an aerospace company linked to the powerful Revolutionary Guards.

The Ukrainian military said Wednesday that it had shot down more than 220 Iranian-made drones in little more than a month, although a drone bombardment on Kyiv on Monday left five people dead.

FILE - Firefighters work after a drone attack on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 17, 2022.
FILE - Firefighters work after a drone attack on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 17, 2022.

US sees UN violation

The United States said the Security Council would hear from an expert on the transfer of the drones, formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles.

"We've seen over the course of the past month there is ample evidence that Russia is using UAVs from Iran in cruel and deliberate attacks against the people of Ukraine," State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters in Washington.

"We will convey these grave concerns about Russia's acquisition of UAVs from Iran in clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231."

The resolution from 2015 blessed a now moribund nuclear deal.

The resolution's ban on Iran's conventional arms sales expired in 2020, despite attempts by the U.S. administration of then-President Donald Trump.

The United States did not spell out how Iran would be in violation, but the resolution still bans through October 2023 any transfers that could benefit nuclear-capable ballistic missiles unless there is permission from the Security Council.

The alleged arms transfers come as Iran is facing growing pressure over its crackdown on the most widespread protests in years, which were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, a who was detained by the clerical state's notorious morality police.

The unrest has led to new Western sanctions over human rights and put on the back burner efforts by U.S. President Joe Biden to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, from which Trump pulled the United States.

Western officials have highlighted the Iranian drones as evidence that Russia, historically one of the world's largest arms exporters, has seen its arsenal badly depleted from losses on the battlefield.

The United States has released intelligence saying that the Iranian drones have frequently malfunctioned and that Russia has also turned to North Korea, although China has reportedly rebuffed calls to send weapons.

Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur, on a visit to Washington, said that Russia was relying on drones both because of low supplies and Ukraine's success in the skies.

The Russians "understand that in air, they don't have supremacy at the moment because there is air defense from the Ukrainian side. They've lost many airplanes already," Pevkur told reporters.