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Iran denies that it is supplying weaponry to Russia for use in Ukraine

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

A nationwide electricity shortage starts today in Ukraine. People are being asked to conserve electricity after Russian attacks using missiles and Iranian-made drones on power stations.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now, Iran denies sending Russia kamikaze drones, and Teheran demands that the West provide proof. But the U.S. says Iran is lying. The European Union is preparing more sanctions, and Iran's military cooperation with Russia may not end there, with reported plans by Tehran to send surface-to-surface missiles, more drones and military trainers to aid the Russians.

MARTINEZ: To find out what's behind this, we're turning to Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, Tehran and Moscow have cooperated militarily before, but why is Iran getting involved now?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, I'm seeing reports that Russia's own stockpile of ballistic and cruise missiles is shrinking, so that could be one reason. Iran is reportedly supplying Russia with medium-range missiles, as well as the Iranian Shahed drones that are now being seen attacking Ukrainian targets. It's got Western nations scrambling somewhat to help Ukraine counter these new weapons. Beyond that, Iran has been paying more attention to its alliance with Russia, as well as China, as its ties with Western powers have frayed. The more hopeful days of the Iran nuclear agreement - they gave way to a return to hostilities during the Trump administration. There were some hopes about reviving the deal after President Biden took office. But even though both sides said they wanted to restore the deal, months of talks failed and now appear to be essentially frozen in part because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Tehran's support for Moscow.

MARTINEZ: But how does greater involvement in this promote Iran's national interests?

KENYON: Well, it certainly demonstrates - to Russia, anyway - Iran has some value in this alliance. Now, whether that alliance can provide Iran with the support and benefits Tehran was hoping to see out of improved ties with the West - that remains to be seen. Analysts say it's probably unlikely, but it shows Iran can contribute to the alliance. And there's another benefit for Iran that may largely play out domestically at home in Iran. Tehran has always seen itself as a major world power, and moves like this provide Iranian leaders with something to point to when they want to talk about Iran's place as an important actor on the world stage, a country whose interests must always be taken into account.

MARTINEZ: If there are consequences for Iran, what would they likely be?

KENYON: Well, a good question - on the positive side, arms deals bring in revenue. Iran has suffered for years under Western sanctions, and they could certainly use the money. That was the main point of the nuclear agreement as far as Iran was concerned, of course - to get out from under the sanctions. Also, one of the main arguments critics used to attack it - that that money would be flowing to the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the military, and could be used in attacks against Israel or other U.S. allies. Now, on the other hand, these latest events are expected to increase Western pressure on Iran. They dim hopes for diplomatic initiatives such as the attempt to revive the nuclear agreement. On the contrary, we're seeing now European Union sanctions being imposed already against Russia over the Ukraine invasion. And now it looks like the EU is following up with sanctions on Iran. An EC spokeswoman says the EU has gathered sufficient evidence to justify sanctions, and members are looking toward a clear, swift and firm EU response.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.