By Umud Shokri*
Currently, Iran is grappling with Western sanctions and resulting economic pressures due to its nuclear program. With the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amin, the country saw widespread protests and violence (Al Jazeera, September 27). Regarding nuclear negotiations with the West, some interpret Iran’s activism as stepping on Russia’s toes. Some also claim that Iran’s foreign policy has been rather passive and argue that its role as mediator in the conflict in Ukraine has served to aggravate differences between the United States and Russia (Radiofarda.com, September 4). Even before the war, Iranian-Ukrainian relations faced serious strain after the downing of a Ukrainian plane by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in January 2020.
Despite Iran’s economic problems, the authorities in Tehran have always made security issues their top priority. On July 19, Russian President Vladimir Putin, on his second trip abroad after Russia’s military attack on Ukraine on February 24, visited Tehran to meet with government officials. Considering what has happened in Ukraine in recent months, many capitals around the world are not ready to roll out the red carpet for the head of the Kremlin (Eurnews.com, July 22). No major developments directly affected bilateral relations between Moscow and Tehran after Putin’s visit, although he did manage to secure the Supreme Leader’s support regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made his support for Russia clear, saying: “If you hadn’t taken the initiative, the opposing side would have caused [the outbreak] of war.” In August 2022, a US official told CNN: “For the past few weeks, Russian officials have been training in Iran as part of Iran’s drone transfer agreement to Russia.” This official said that information relating to the training of Russian officers in Iran was recently declassified (CNN, August 9) As a result, Iran made it clear that the agreement with Russia regarding “new technologies “predates the war against Ukraine (Rusi.com, July 22).
In August 2022, Russia received the first shipments of Iranian-made combat drones to Ukraine. Washington believes it was a move aimed at bolstering relations between Tehran and Moscow and bolstering the overstretched Russian military. Russian forces do not have many attack drones, although they do have access to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance purposes. For its part, Ukraine has been using Turkish-made drones since the beginning of the conflict (Farazdaily.com, July 17, 2008). Ukrainian military officials announced on September 13 that they had shot down an Iranian Shahed-136, or “kamikaze” drone, for the first time on the battlefield in the Kupyansk region.
The Iranian suicide drones were sent to Russia at a time when members of the presidential cabinet had repeatedly announced their readiness to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. In July 2022, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in a telephone conversation with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, announced that Tehran was ready to comprehensively develop its relations with Kyiv. Stressing that the Islamic Republic is continuing its efforts to end the war, Abdollahian added that Tehran is ready to expand its relations with Kyiv in the economic and agricultural sectors (Mashreghnews.ir, July 30, 2008).
As numerous reports have demonstrated, Russia is increasingly using Iranian-made drones in combat operations against Ukraine. Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the cabinet of the Ukrainian president, announced on August 5 that the Islamic Republic of Iran had delivered 46 drones to Russia. According to these reports, at least some of the drones delivered to Russia are the older generation Shahed-129 combat drones, which Russian forces could use to attack the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) in Ukraine. . (Understandingwar.org, August 5).
Recent skirmishes have seen Russia use both Shahed and Mohajer class combat drones in Ukraine, and these drones are reported to have originated in Iran. The drones had a devastating first impact on Ukraine, destroying infrastructure and armored vehicles, and causing damage to the port of Odessa. Yet, as the conflict drags on, the effectiveness of these drones has rapidly diminished. Ukraine said its forces shot down one of these drones for the first time last month. Since then, many other drone attacks have been reported. The Kyiv army said that on October 12 alone it shot down 17 Shahed-136 drones. According to photos released by the Ukrainian authorities, Russia renamed the Shaheds as “Geran” (The Kyiv Independent, October 17). The Ukrainian Air Force said the downed drones were Shahed-136 suicide drones and Mohajer-6 drones used for surveillance and transporting ammunition. Since these drones are small, they benefit the Russian military. Due to their size and ability to operate at low altitudes, these drones can avoid detection by Ukrainian radar systems. Ukrainian forces are adept enough to shoot down these drones during the day, but find it difficult to combat them at night, as the US-supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles are not equipped with a night vision system (Sharghdaily .com, accessed October 12).
On September 24, Kyiv revoked the accreditation of Iran’s ambassador to Ukraine, Manouchehr Moradi, on the grounds that Iran had supplied arms to Russia. In a written statement, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said Tehran would respond appropriately to the decision in due course. In the statement, Kanaani expressed regret over Ukraine’s decision to harm diplomatic relations with Iran and said “the decision was based on unconfirmed reports from foreign media.” Arguing that his country follows a policy of neutrality in the war between Ukraine and Russia, Kanaani said disagreements between Kyiv and Moscow should be resolved away from violence. He noted that this issue should be resolved through political dialogue and that Abdollahian was in frequent contact with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts (Ulusal.com, September 24).
However, Tehran has not yet given a convincing response to Kyiv on the attack on the Ukrainian airliner in January 2020. If the revised nuclear agreement is signed and if the current foreign policy of the Islamic Republic continues , based on the creation of tensions with its neighbors, this will lead to the loss of opportunities for Tehran. Neutrality in the war against Ukraine was an opportunity for Iran to play a vital role in regional security and potentially in the reconstruction of Ukraine (Radiofarda.com, January 11, 2021). Now, those prospects look increasingly bleak.
Iran’s foreign policy during Ebrahim Raisi’s presidency emphasized securing national interests and adjusting actions within this indicator. On this basis, from dialogue with the West to expanding interaction with Russia and China, each strategy draws on all available national capabilities to solve the problems. However, the recent strain in relations between Tehran and Kyiv shows that Iran is struggling to effectively implement its foreign policy (Irna.ir, February 8, 2021). Although Iran has repeatedly denied sending drones to Russia, due to continued Western sanctions, Tehran is trying to improve relations with Moscow, and in recent days Iran’s Oil Minister has says it is ready to import Russian natural gas and trade it with neighboring countries. . Thus, Tehran is expanding its relations with Moscow, while there is no real indication of Tehran’s desire to improve its relations with Kyiv.
*About the author: Dr. Umud Shokri is a Washington-based energy diplomacy and energy security analyst, and an analyst at Gulf State Analytics (GSA), currently a Visiting Scholar at the Schar School of Policy and Government in George Mason. University. He holds a doctorate in international relations. Follow him at @ushukrik, https://uskenergy.com/.
Source: This article was published by Eurasia Daily Monitor of the Jamestown Foundation Volume: 19 Number: 154