TANZANIA – Ukraine accused Iran of violating a U.N. Security Council ban on the transfer of drones capable of flying 300 kilometers and invited U.N. experts to inspect what it said were Iranian-origin drones being used by Russia against civilian targets. Russia and Iran denied Wednesday the drones are Iranian.
A letter from Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and members of the U.N. Security Council was obtained by The Associated Press ahead of a closed council meeting late Wednesday requested by Britain, France and the United States on Iran’s sale of hundreds of drones to Russia.
The three Western countries strongly back Ukraine’s contention that the drones were transferred to Russia and violate a 2015 U.N. Security Council resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal between Iran and six key nations -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear activities and preventing the country from developing a nuclear weapon.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky told reporters after the council meeting the unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs used by the Russian army in Ukraine “are manufactured in Russia, so these are all baseless allegations.”
He accused Western nations of their “usual shameful practice” of trying to pressure Iran by leveling such accusations about its violation of resolution 2231.
Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani “categorically rejected unfounded and unsubstantiated claims that Iran has transferred UAVs for the use (in) the conflict in Ukraine,” and accused unnamed countries of trying to launch a disinformation campaign to “wrongly establish a link” with the U.N. resolution. “Moreover, Iran is of the firm belief that none of its arms exports, including UAVs, to any country” violate resolution 2231.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere reiterated after the council meeting that the drones were delivered from Iran to Russia and are being used in Ukraine in violation of the resolution. He told reporters that during the closed council discussion Russia denied this and cited a statement from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who said Tuesday that “Russian equipment with Russian nomenclature is used” in Ukraine.
“And I said, there is no one in the world that believes any more Mr. Peskov’s statements,” the French ambassador said.
De Riviere said Peskov “has been lying from the very beginning” when he said on Feb. 23 — the day before Russia’s invasion — that Russia will never invade Ukraine.
“And now he will tell us that Russia never bought Iranian drones. So, I think (his) credibility is zero,” the French envoy said. “So we are very concerned with that,” stressing that the Iranian drones violate resolution 2231 and their use by Russia to kill civilians and hit civilian infrastructure “is another violation of international law.”
Russia is believed to have sent waves of Iranian-made Shahed drones into Ukraine to strike at power plants, residential buildings and other infrastructure in Kyiv and other cities.
Ukraine’s Western-reinforced air defenses have made it difficult for Russian warplanes to operate, and killer drones are a cheap weapon to seek out and destroy targets while spreading fear among troops and civilians.
“As we have seen over the course of the past months there is ample evidence that Russia is using UAVs from Iran in cruel and deliberate attacks against the people of Ukraine, including against civilians and critical civilian infrastructure,” U.S. Deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters in Washington.
Former U.S. president Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement known as the JCPOA in 2018 and negotiations between the Biden administration and Iran for the United States to rejoin the deal have stalled.
Under the resolution, a conventional arms embargo on Iran was in place until October 2020, but restrictions on missiles and related technologies last until October 2023 and Western diplomats say that includes the export and purchase of advanced military systems such as drones.
“It is our belief that these UAVs that are transferred from Iran to Russia and used by Russia in Ukraine are among the weapons that would remain embargoed under 2231,” Patel said Monday.
Ukraine’s Kyslytsya said in the letter that according to public information, “Mohajer- and Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were transferred from Iran to Russia” in late August, and “Ukraine assesses that this is likely part of Iran’s plans to export hundreds of UAVs to Russia.”
He said both UAV models meet the requirement to be banned because they are capable of a range equal to or greater than 300 kilometers. In addition, the Mohajer-series is manufactured by Qods Aviation, which is on the U.N. sanctions blacklist and subject to an asset freeze by all countries, he said.
The Ukrainian ambassador said no country submitted a request to the U.N. for approval of the shipment of UAVs.
“Therefore, the transfers from Iran to Russia should be considered as violations of (resolution) 2231,” Kyslytsya said.
He invited U.N. experts monitoring sanctions against Iran to visit Ukraine “at the earliest possible opportunity” to inspect the recovered drones, saying the government hopes the information will be “helpful” in the U.N.’s investigations into implementation of the resolution.
Russia’s Polyansky insisted that U.N. experts have no mandate to investigate and warned that if the U.N. Secretariat engages in “any illegitimate investigation … we will have to reassess our collaboration with them which is hardly in anyone’s interest.”
France’s De Riviere countered that all Security Council members, including Russia, agreed in 2016 to have the Secretariat report twice a year on resolution 2231 “so I think the U.N. Secretariat will have to go and will go” to Ukraine.
Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador James Kariuki tweeted that Iran’s denial that Iranian drones are being used to target civilians in Ukraine by Russia “doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.”
U.S. Mission spokesman Nate Evans said Wednesday’s meeting provided “ample evidence that Russia is using Iranian-made UAV’s in cruel and deliberate attacks against the people of Ukraine.”
“We anticipate this will be the first of many conversations at the U.N. on how to hold Iran and Russia accountable for failing to comply with U.N. Security Council-imposed obligations,” he said.
Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington