Russia's Wagner group to provide air defence to Hezbollah or Iran, White House says

Washington is concerned over a deepening military partnership between Russia and Iran

Wagner troops pose for a picture as they get deployed near the headquarters of the Southern Military District in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 24, 2023. Reuters
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The White House says that Russia's Wagner group plans to supply either Hezbollah or Iran with an air defence capability as part of “unprecedented defence co-operation” between the two nations.

Citing newly downgraded intelligence, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the US will be closely monitoring the issue and is prepared to use sanctions against Russian individuals or groups should this transfer occur.

“Our information … indicates that Wagner, at the direction of the Russian government, was preparing to provide an air defence capability to either Hezbollah or Iran,” Mr Kirby said on Tuesday.

The development comes amid growing concern in Washington over a potentially deepening military relationship between Moscow and Tehran, as the war in Ukraine drags on.

Such an alliance, Mr Kirby said, would be “obviously harmful to Ukraine, certainly harmful to Iran's neighbours, quite frankly harmful to the international community”.

He said in return Iran was considering providing Russia with ballistic missiles for use in Ukraine.

The possibility of Hezbollah obtaining an air defence system is cause for additional concern during Israel’s continuing war on Gaza, now approaching its seventh week, which US officials worry might spread into a wider regional conflict.

“We will closely monitor whether Wagner provides military equipment to Hezbollah or Iran,” Mr Kirby said.

“We are prepared to use our counterterrorism sanctions authorities against Russian individuals or entities making these destabilising transfers.”

Hezbollah and Israel have been in engaged in cross-border fights since October 7, when Hamas, a group backed by Iran, launched an attack on Israel, prompting the latest conflict.

But US officials say that Hezbollah, for now, is not planning on engaging in a full-scale war with Israel.

Updated: November 23, 2023, 6:27 AM