Senate Moves To Disrupt Iran's Support for Russia's War on Ukraine

Russia has used Iranian drones to pummel Ukrainian cities

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi / Wikimedia Commons
February 15, 2023

Senate Republicans are moving to disrupt Iran's budding military alliance with Russia through new legislation that would authorize a bevy of new sanctions on Tehran.

The DISRUPT Act, spearheaded by Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.), would authorize sanctions on a range of Iranian regime entities that provide military support to Russia as it wages an unprovoked war in Ukraine, according to a copy of the new bill obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Iran has emerged as a key military ally for Moscow, providing it with deadly drone technology that has been used to target sites across Ukraine.

The legislation is one of the first efforts by the new Congress to directly target Iran and Russia's expanding military alliance. It would stop President Joe Biden from lifting any sanctions on Iran until the country "ends its support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine," according to information about the bill provided by Lankford's office. A related bill also introduced by Lankford on Wednesday would stop Iran from importing American products that help fuel its terrorism enterprise, pointing to reports that U.S.-made parts were discovered in an Iranian drone downed in Ukraine.

The measures could further complicate efforts by the Biden administration to secure a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal. Earlier this month, the administration reauthorized a series of sanctions waivers permitting Iran and Russia to conduct multibillion-dollar nuclear work. If passed, Lankford's legislation would block the Biden administration from lifting these and other sanctions on Tehran. The bill is expected to garner widespread Republican backing in the Senate and could attract hawkish Democrats who are increasingly interested in severing Moscow's military alliance with Iran. The Republican-controlled House has already signaled there is a bipartisan appetite for increasing pressure on Iran.

"Iran poses a direct threat to the United States and our allies," Lankford told the Free Beacon. "The Biden administration must act to disrupt Iran's partnership with Russia and stop the use of American-made products in Iranian drones."

Both pieces of new legislation, the senator said, "are critical to countering Iran and demonstrating to our adversaries that we will not enable them any further."

Russia's reliance on Iranian-made drone technology has cast an international spotlight on Tehran's advancing weapons capabilities. A suspected Israeli drone strike late last month on an Iranian weapons factory fueled suspicions the Jewish state may be trying to disrupt the Tehran-Moscow pipeline. Russia said it is helping Iran investigate the incident, highlighting its interest in keeping these networks online.

The DISRUPT Act would force the Biden administration to issue new sanctions on any Iranian entity that "provides material, tactical, or operational support for activities by the Russian Federation against Ukraine," according to a copy of the bill. This includes drones, surface-to-surface missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, armored ground vehicles, munitions, and conventional arms.

By including these types of military hardware, Lankford is putting in place mechanisms that would preemptively stop Iran from increasing its military support to Ukraine. Though Tehran has mostly provided lethal drone technology, its leaders have made clear the Islamic Republic intends to expand its military partnership with Moscow.

The Biden administration would additionally be barred from lifting sanctions on Iran until it can certify to Congress that Tehran is no longer providing any type of military equipment to Russia. This portion of the bill is likely to attract fierce pushback from the Biden administration, which has used sanctions waivers as a tool to entice Iran back to the bargaining table. By stripping Biden's power to unwind sanctions, the bill could be a death blow to the administration's ongoing diplomacy with Iran.