Iran, Russia Working Together To Evade US Sanctions

Moscow 'creating a mechanism' to skirt sanctions on business, military trade with Iran

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei (Alexei Druzhinin/AFP via Getty Images)
February 11, 2022

Iran and Russia are actively working together to evade U.S. and international sanctions, a disclosure that comes just days after the Biden administration waived some sanctions on both countries so that Moscow can build up Iran's civilian nuclear program.

Moscow and Tehran are "creating a mechanism to protect the two countries' trade and financial exchanges from the threat of sanctions," according to a Russian official quoted Friday in Iran's state-controlled press. Russia's foreign ministry said the country "does not take any restrictions into account in developing technical and military cooperation with Tehran."

The statement is a sign of increased ties between Iran and Russia as both countries suffer under the weight of U.S. and international sanctions. Russia has emerged as a major interlocutor in the Biden administration's diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord and, along with China, is pressuring the United States to waive all economic sanctions on Iran as part of a revamped deal. Such a deal would provide Iran with billions of dollars in cash that it can use to work on its nuclear sites.

Russia's effort to create an illicit economic pipeline with Iran will also help the Kremlin maintain relations with Tehran as it faces a barrage of sanctions over its military buildup on the border with Ukraine. The Biden administration has been walking a diplomatic tightrope with both countries, as it relies on Russia to forge a nuclear deal while also threatening tough sanctions if Moscow invades Ukraine. Russia could launch its invasion of Ukraine as early as next week, according to reports Friday afternoon.

Russia's central role in negotiations with Iran has drawn pushback from Republican congressional leaders, who say the Biden administration is empowering both regimes while getting little in return. The sanction waivers granted last week allow Moscow and Beijing to work on Iran's nuclear program without facing penalties. The decision was seen as a concession to both Russia and Iran as U.S. diplomats seek the support of both nations for a new nuclear deal.

While the details of a new nuclear deal remain secret—with the Biden administration angling to bypass Congress and ink a deal without legislative approval—it has become increasingly clear that Iran will only make moderate reforms to its atomic program. The State Department admitted earlier this month that Iran is just weeks away from having the fissile material needed to power a weapon. It is also likely that a new deal will not address Iran's ballistic missile program—which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

As part of at least one "secret agreement" proposed by Russia during the talks, Iran would send its enriched fissile material to Moscow for storage. It is unclear if this proposal remains on the table.

One senior Republican congressional aide who works on Iran issues told the Washington Free Beacon that the growing Tehran-Moscow axis is due to Biden administration policies that enable both countries to engage in malign activities.

"Biden's weak policies on Russia are empowering Iran," said the source, who was not authorized to speak on record. "Remember, one of the first things Biden did was allow Russia to sell ballistic missiles to Iran by canceling snapback sanctions. At every turn his administration proudly says they're including Russia in the Iran negotiations. What did they get in response? Russia working with Tehran to help them skirt sanctions. The level of incompetence here is breathtaking."