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Russia was hit by a barrage of sanctions from the US, UK and other countries six months ago when it invaded Ukraine. Thousands of Russian firms and individuals were targeted, Russian banks were cut off from global trade and half of the country’s £490billion of currency reserves were frozen. However, Russia is now said to be on the brink of a “huge financial windfall” that would allow it to evade the sanctions. Moscow hopes to avoid financial penalties by funnelling sanctioned Russian crude oil and other commodities through Iran in a potential boost for Putin’s war in Ukraine, experts have warned.
A secret Kremlin deal with Iran, its long-time ally, comes as Tehran is on the cusp of securing billions of dollars of sanctions relief from the US as part of a deal to scale back the Iranian nuclear programme.
The potential Russian benefits from a US-Iranian deal were underlined by Andrea Stricker of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies think tank.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, she said: “I think the fear is that they will use their cooperation with Iran as a sanctions evasion hub.
“So, if Iranian financial institutions are freed from sanctions, they may be able to help Russia circumvent global sanctions against its invasion.”
Ms Stricker is not the only expert to warn of a Russian-Iranian plot to avoid sanctions over Ukraine.
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Politico also reported on the plans, with one diplomat telling the magazine: “Iran is a good partner in this endeavour. Russia has a difficulty and Iran has a capability.”
The warnings come as Tehran and Washington are expected to agree any day to revive the 2015 nuclear deal they signed with Russia, Germany, France, the UK and China.
Under the deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
However, then President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018 and instead announced a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions against Iran.
In response, Tehran ramped up its nuclear programme by enriching uranium to higher purities and warned that it could develop nuclear weapons if it wanted to.
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However, US President Joe Biden’s administration offered Tehran sanctions relief if it agreed to come to the negotiating table with Washington.
This month, the 16 months of gruelling US-Iranian indirect talks mediated by the EU have finally produced a “final text” to revive the JCPOA, to which both sides have responded.
But Ms Stricker claimed that the West had not been tough enough on Russia after Moscow was handed concessions by Washington during the negotiations.
She said: “I think we can say that Russia can no longer be seen as any kind of an honest broker in the talks.
“Back in the winter of last year, they held up the talks and they demanded guarantees from the US State Department that they would be able to carry out nuclear projects in Iran under the JCPOA.
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“Those would permit them to gain more than $10 billion in revenue for Rosatom carrying out these projects, and the State Department gave them those guarantees.
“So, on the one hand, while we are trying to stop their advances in Ukraine and penalise them economically, we are guaranteeing them a huge financial windfall.”
As the nuclear negotiations have progressed in recent weeks, there have been reports of Russian cooperation with Iran in several areas.
Iran and Russia have both started trading in their national currencies, the Iranian ambassador in Moscow, Kazem Jalali said this week.
The nations have started trading rials and rubles for the first time, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
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Meanwhile, US intelligence shows that Tehran has inked a deal with Moscow to supply hundreds of “weapons capable” drones for Russia to use in Ukraine.
Russian officials travelled to Iran to be trained with unmanned aerial vehicles, according to reports.
Now the drones have started being deployed in the Ukraine war, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
Commenting on the Russian-Iranian partnership, Ms Stricker said: “It is really problematic that they will be funnelling drones to Russia to take out more Ukrainians. It could be really devastating to the war.”