The European Union has agreed on new sanctions against Iran over its supply of drones to Russia for use in Ukraine a few days after announcing a package of punitive measures against Tehran for human rights offences.
“After three days of talks, EU ambassadors agreed on measures against entities supplying Iranian drones that hit Ukraine,” the Czech presidency of the EU said in a tweet on Thursday.
“EU states decided to freeze the assets of three individuals and one entity responsible for drone deliveries [and are] also prepared to extend sanctions to four more Iranian entities that already featured in a previous sanctions list.”
The three people named in the sanctions ― Maj Gen Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, Gen Sayed Hojatollah Qureishi, and Brig Gen Saeed Aghajani ― are part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces.
They are all involved in supervising the country's drone development programme or supplying drones to Russia.
Shahed Aviation Industries, an IRGC-linked company that manufactures the Shahed-136 drones that Russia has allegedly used in Ukraine, was also sanctioned.
The UK also announced matching sanctions alongside the EU action against Iranian suppliers.
A UK Foreign Office statement said sanctions had been imposed on Iranian individuals and businesses responsible for supplying Russia with kamikaze drones used to bombard Ukraine.
“By supplying these drones, Iran is actively warmongering, profiting off Russia’s abhorrent attacks on Ukrainian citizens and adding to the suffering of the people and the destruction of critical infrastructure,” the statement said. “Both Russia and Iran are violating a UN Security Council resolution that controls the transfer of these weapons from Iran.”
Reports of a transfer of Iranian drones to Russia surfaced in August and Ukraine has published pictures in the past weeks of the wreckage of Shahed-136 unmanned aerial vehicles, known as kamikaze drones because they explode on impact.
Russia is reportedly using the drones to attack both civilian targets and critical infrastructure in Kyiv and across Ukraine, with the intention of cutting off the Ukrainian people from energy, heat and water.
Ukrainian authorities claim to have shot down more than 220 Iranian-made drones in little more than a month and have linked the weapons to civilian deaths.
In an interview with The National, a senior US State Department official on Thursday described their use as “truly unacceptable”.
A senior EU official told reporters on Wednesday that the EU had gathered sufficient evidence of Russia's use of Iranian drones.
The EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, on Thursday said in a tweet that “the EU condemns the delivery of Iranian drones to Russia and their deadly deployment in the war of aggression against #Ukraine”.
There have been further reports in the media of Iran sending drone trainers to Russian-occupied Crimea.
Iran has denied any involvement in the transfer of the drones.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday said he did not trust Iran's rejection of such accusations. He described the alleged transfer of drones to Russia as “blood money”.
“They publicly denied all that, saying that 'we didn't sell anything', but here we see. Hundreds of strikes on Ukraine, on the capital, on civil infrastructure, on schools, nearby the university, at the university,” he told Canada's CTV Television Network.
Russia has reportedly recently switched to using relatively cheap Iranian-made drones after failing to take control of the Ukrainian skies. Ukraine has managed to destroy at least 60 Russian military aircraft since the start of the war.
The prices of Shahed-136 drones can range between €20,000 and €50,000 ($19,604 and $49,011), which is considerably cheaper than some of the more sophisticated weapons from Russia's own arsenals.
Modern cruise missiles and hypersonic ballistic missiles cost millions of euros, said Rafael Loss, co-ordinator of pan-European data projects at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“This particular kind of Iranian drone can hit stationary targets like residential buildings or power plants, but moving targets like manoeuvring forces are more difficult to strike with them,” Mr Loss told The National.
“For close air support, you still need piloted aircraft, by and large.”
Iran's Shahed drones fly slowly enough to be shot out of the sky with a well-aimed rifle, but because of their low cost, they can be sent in swarms, making it difficult to prevent one or two from getting through and striking residential buildings or damaging scattered targets such as electricity substations.
Iran is also reportedly planning to send surface-to-surface missiles to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine.
Tehran's supply of drones to Russia contravenes UN Security Council Resolution 2231, a US State Department spokesman said on Wednesday.
On Monday, the EU imposed sanctions on 11 Iranians and four Iranian entities, including the country's morality police and its law enforcement forces, after weeks of brutal repression of protests that have swept the country following the death of a young woman detained for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.
Human rights groups have reported that at least 200 protesters have been killed.