The United States and its allies have faced a problem in countering Iran’s drones since the 2010s, when Tehran increasingly deployed unmanned aircraft to harass adversaries across the Middle East. But Iran’s UAV arsenal became even more of a flashpoint after it exported drones to Russia in August 2022 for use in the war against Ukraine. Iran had reportedly agreed to send Russia at least 1,700 in total. In three rounds of sanctions between September 2022 and January 2023, the United States designated nearly two dozen individuals and entities, including Iranian drone manufacturers and the Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, as well as the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force with close ties to the Kremlin. The United States also sanctioned transportation firms in Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
By January 2023, Russia had launched hundreds of Iranian drones, including two types of suicide drones, the Shahed-131 and the Shahed-136, as well as the Mohajer-6, which can conduct both strikes and reconnaissance. Russia fired suicide drones on Ukrainian military positions as well as residential buildings, power stations, bridges, playgrounds, sewage treatment plants and other infrastructure, killing civilians.
Tehran's decision to aid Russia reflected a deepening strategic alliance with Moscow. Both countries faced mounting diplomatic, economic, and military challenges from Western powers. Both were also sanctioned by the United States—Iran for nuclear advances and Russia for invading Ukraine. “Iran has now become Russia’s top military backer,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in announcing sanctions on January 6. “Iran must cease its support for Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine, and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity.”
But U.S. sanctions on both Iran and Russia had limited impact. They only froze assets of sanctioned people and entities that were under U.S. jurisdiction. They also prohibited any financial transactions using the U.S. financial system, even if all parties are outside the United States. The U.S. restrictions, for example, did not prevent Iranian exports to Russia because they did not involve the U.S. financial system. The following is a chronology of U.S. sanctions on people and entities involved in the drone transfers.
Sept. 8, 2022
The United States sanctioned four Iranian companies and a defense contractor for providing drones to Russia for use in Ukraine. The move reflects a tightening of the sanctions noose around countries facilitating Vladimir Putin’s war machine. “The Russian military is suffering from major supply shortages in Ukraine, in part because of sanctions and export controls, forcing Russia to turn to unreliable countries like Iran for supplies and equipment,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “The United States will hold those who support Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine to account, including by continuing to sanction Iranian or other entities that provide lethal aid to Russia.”
- Safiran Airport Services: The Tehran-based firm coordinated military flights between Iran and Russia.
- Paravar Pars Company: The drone manufacturer was linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
- Design and Manufacturing of Aircraft Engines: The firm was involved in the IRGC’s Shahed-171 drone program.
- Baharestan Kish Company: The firm managed Iranian drone manufacturing projects.
- Rehmatollah Heidari: The Iranian man was Baharestan Kish Company’s managing director and a board of directors member.
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Iran for Providing Drones to Russia
Nov. 15, 2022
The United States imposed sanctions on Iranians and Russians involved in the export of drones used in Ukraine. The State and Treasury Departments designed three Iranian entities, a Russian paramilitary, two Russian nationals, and two transportations firms based in the United Arab Emirates. The United States is “determined to sanction people and companies, no matter where they are located, that support Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned in a statement.
- Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center: The Iranian company produced the Shahed-136 suicide drone used by Russia against Ukraine.
- Qods Aviation Industries: The Iranian company produced the Mohajer-6 attack and reconnaissance drone used by Russia against Ukraine.
- Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force: The military branch likely helped facilitate Iran’s supply of drones to Russia.
- Wagner: The Russian private military company sought to acquire Iranian drones. It had reportedly deployed to warzones in Europe, the Middle East and Africa on behalf of Moscow.
- Abbas Djuma and Tigran Khristoforovich Srabionov: The two Russian men were involved in Wagner’s acquisition of Iranian drones
- Success Aviation Services FZC and i Jet Global DMCC: The transportation firms, based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), coordinated flights between Iran and Russia. Both had cooperated with Safiran, a sanctioned Iranian transportation company. i Jet had also assisted Cham Wings, a Syria-based airline, that helped move Syrian fighters to Russia.
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Iran-Russia Drone Facilitators
Jan. 6, 2023
The United States sanctioned six executives of an Iranian firm that produced drones exported to Russia for use against Ukraine. It also sanctioned the director of an organization that managed Iran’s ballistic missile program. “Iran must cease its support for Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine, and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
- Seyed Hojatollah Ghoreishi, Qods Aviation Industries (QAI) board of directors chairman and deputy defense minister
- Ghassem Damavandian, QAI managing director and member of the board of directors
- Hamidreza Sharifi-Tehrani, influential member of the QAI board of directors
- Reza Khaki, member of the QAI board of directors
- Majid Reza Niyazi-Angili, member of the QAI board of directors
- Vali Arlanizadeh, member of the QAI board of directors
- Nader Khoon Siavash, Aerospace Industries Organization director
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Iranians for Drone Supply to Russia
Feb. 3, 2023
The United States sanctioned eight executives of Paravar Pars Company, which manufactures suicide drones for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC had exported the firm’s Shahed-series drones to Russia for use against Ukraine. “The United States will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
- Hossein Shamsabadi, managing director and CEO of Paravar Pars Company and member of the board of directors
- Ali Reza Tangsiri, chairman of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors and IRGC Navy commander
- Abualfazl Nazeri, vice chairman of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors
- Mohammad Sadegh Heidari Mousa, member of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors and IRGC Navy official
- Mohsen Asadi, member of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors
- Mohammad Reza Mohammadi, member of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors
- Abulghasem Valagohar, member of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors
- Abulfazl Salehnejad, former member of the Paravar Pars Company board of directors
For more information on this round of sanctions: U.S. Sanctions Iranian Drone Maker Executives
Photo Credits: Mohajer-6 via Mehr News Agency (CC BY 4.0)