October 21, 2022 | Flash Brief

Despite Iran Providing Arms to Russia, U.S. Still Considering Sanctions Relief for Iran

October 21, 2022 | Flash Brief

Despite Iran Providing Arms to Russia, U.S. Still Considering Sanctions Relief for Iran

Latest Developments

Russia conducted strikes against targets across Ukraine over the past week using drones acquired from Iran. These Iranian drones — including the Shahed-136, the Shahed-131, and the Mohajer-6 — have enhanced Russia’s ability to conduct strikes against the Ukrainian military, critical infrastructure, and civilian targets. Despite the U.S. and EU’s imposition of sanctions on Iran for transferring the drones, Kyiv’s allies in London, Paris, Berlin, and Washington have not rescinded their offer of other sanctions relief to Iran as part of a revived nuclear deal. They have also refrained from snapping back prior UN sanctions on Iran that would restore the UN arms embargo and maintain key missile restrictions indefinitely.

Expert Analysis

“The acquisition of Iranian drones helps Russia fill critical shortfalls in its surveillance and long-range strike capabilities. These drones will allow Russia to continue its illegal war and kill more Ukrainians who are attempting to defend their homeland. Washington and like-minded allies should provide Ukraine with additional air defenses as well as long-range strike weapons so that Ukraine can target drone launch sites.” – Ryan Brobst, Research Analyst at FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin need to make clear that a new Iran deal that would subsidize attacks on Ukraine by lifting sanctions is off the table. Britain, France, and Germany have the power to restore the UN arms embargo on Iran at any moment simply by completing the snapback of prior UN sanctions.” Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

Capabilities of Russian-Operated Iranian Drones

Iran has provided Russia with the Shahed-136 and its smaller cousin, the Shahed-131, which are loitering munitions — a type of drone capable of flying above its targets for long periods of time before diving down, armed with a warhead that destroys the drone and the target. According to Yuriy Ignat, spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force Command, the Shahed-136 has a range of 1,000 km, which would allow Russia to strike anywhere in Ukraine. On October 11, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cited Ukrainian intelligence as saying that Moscow hopes to buy 2,400 more Shahed-136s.

The Mohajer-6 conducts reconnaissance and increases the Russian military’s ability to find and target Ukrainian forces on the battlefield, compensating for prior losses of Russian surveillance. This is a significant threat to Ukrainian forces and could disrupt further offensive operations.

Snapback of UN Sanctions

Under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the international arms embargo on Iran expired in 2020. Key restrictions on missile technology expire next year. A nuclear deal that would maintain UNSCR 2231’s expiration dates would provide international legitimacy to Iran’s drone transfers. To restore the arms embargo and maintain the missile embargo indefinitely, any JCPOA participant has the right under UNSCR 2231 to snap back prior UN Security Council resolutions if Iran is in significant non-performance of its JCPOA commitments. Iran’s continued nuclear development most certainly meets that legal threshold.

Related Analysis

Iranian drones could make Russia’s military more lethal in Ukraine,” by John Hardie, Ryan Brobst, and Behnam Ben Taleblu

Iranian Shahed-136 Drones Increase Russian Strike Capacity and Lethality in Ukraine,” by John Hardie and Ryan Brobst


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran Nuclear Iran Sanctions Russia Sanctions and Illicit Finance