The U.S. on Friday hit six executives and board members of an Iranian drone manufacturer with sanctions after the firm allegedly supplied Moscow with drones that Russian forces have been using to attack Ukraine.
Qods Aviation Industries, a previously sanctioned Iranian defense manufacturer, is alleged to be responsible for the design and production of unmanned aerial vehicles used to conduct strikes on civilians during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Treasury Department says the firm changed its name to Light Airplanes Design and Manufacturing Industries in mid-2020 to evade sanctions.
The financial penalties imposed by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control highlight the growing tension between the U.S. and Iran over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal as well as U.S. allegations of Russia and Iran deepening cooperation through shared military assistance as the war rages on.
"Iran has now become Russia’s top military backer," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. "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."
The latest sanctions follow a round imposed on Iranian-based Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center, which the U.S. says designs and produces drones used by Russian forces in Ukraine, and several firms that are said to facilitate the transfer of Iranian drones to Russia.
At a U.N. Security Council meeting in December, Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani said drones were not transferred to Russia for use in Ukraine, saying "the misinformation campaign and baseless allegations … serve no purpose other than to divert attention from Western states’ transfer of massive amounts of advanced, sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine in order to prolong the conflict."
In November, Iran’s foreign minister acknowledged that his country has supplied Russia with drones, insisting the transfer came before Moscow’s war on Ukraine, which has seen the Iranian-made drones divebombing Kyiv.
The U.S. administration, however, said in December that Iran sold hundreds of attack drones to Russia over the summer and in turn Russia is moving to provide advanced military assistance to Iran, including air defense systems, helicopters and fighter jets.
"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," said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.