Iran sides with Russia at the UN

20 October 2022, 05:25 PM
Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones (illustrative photo) (Photo:DR)

Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones (illustrative photo) (Photo:DR)

It’s been almost two months since I started covering the United Nations from its headquarters in New York. I came here to understand whether the organization is as useless as many in Ukraine and beyond say. People see mostly brazen Russian vetoes at the Security Council, the inability of the body to make decisions and, of course, loads of boring resolutions no one understands.

In reality, the UN is a site of everyday diplomatic battles, where countries side with each other, and where superpowers can pressure or blackmail other states to vote for their interests. All the while UN officials are bearing the brunt of toxic public outrage against the institution.

One week, the UN General Assembly can hold historic votes, where 143 nations support a draft resolution condemning Russia’s illegal annexation of the occupied territories of Ukraine; the next week countries start sacking foreign ministers allegedly for voting to uphold the UN Charter.

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While democracies tend to fight and argue with each other, autocrats unite in solid alliances. While we were all cheering the historic vote on the Ukraine resolution, since few expected such a level of unity, more than 35 countries abstained. Usual suspects – Russia’s traditional allies – voted against. Meanwhile, Iran just did not attend the vote at all. An interesting move, to be sure.

Why did this abusive regime – which kills its own people and sells Putin drones to make his invasion and genocide of Ukrainians cheaper – wouldn’t just vote against the resolution, like Syria, Belarus, and North Korea did? It seems that Iran isn’t in a rush to join the pariah states club, opting instead for the good old denial tactics – something Russia has been using in regard to Ukraine since 2014. This seems to be the easiest way to avoid punishment.

Obfuscation of reality seems to be the main tool of autocratic regimes nowadays. And Russia got itself a powerful ally in its unholy crusade for new world order, one where there’s no free will, where borders can be changed by force, and the United Nations can be abused for power’s sake.

Recently Ukraine accused Iran of selling Shahed-136 kamikaze drones to Russia. Every day we get footage of UAVs that look exactly like Iranian Shaheds bombing residential buildings across Ukraine. On Oct. 17, one of these attacks killed a pregnant Ukrainian woman and her husband, destroying a historic house in central Kyiv.

In October alone, Ukraine has shot down 233 Shahed UAVs, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently said in a statement. The Ukrainian government now talks about cutting diplomatic ties with Iran. The United States and France convened a UN Security Council meeting to discuss recent evidence of Iranian arms sales to Russia, on Oct.19. Iran is facing accusations of violating sanctions and a 2015 Security Council resolution.

Ukraine invited a UN commission to inspect several captured and downed Iranian drones. Both Iran and Russia deny these accusations. But when it came to an inspection, Russia threatened to scuttle the crucial Black Sea grain deal, if the UN decides to investigate the origin of Russia’s new kamikaze drones. After the closed-door Oct. 19 UN Security Council meeting, deputy Russian UN envoy Dmitriy Polyanskiy told journalists that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his staff should “abstain from engaging in any illegitimate investigation.”

Otherwise, Russia would reassess its relations with Guterres and withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which the Secretary-General sees as his diplomatic victory – the only major one in the war, where sides refuse to negotiate.

The deal he brokered together with Turkey restrained Russia from shelling and blocking Ukrainian ports, and allowed Ukraine to transport more than 7 billion tons of grain to various countries across Africa and Asia.

The deal lowered global food prices and brought some respite to struggling African countries. The initiative, signed in July, expires in November. UN diplomats hope to extend it for a year. For that, they are ready to pressure Ukraine into allowing Moscow to export its ammonia via the Tolyatti-Odesa pipeline through Ukraine-controlled territory.

So yes, once again Russia uses threats and brazen denial of evidence to coerce the world into letting it kill Ukrainians. What about Iran? Well, it sides with Russia in the traditional Russian manner of shady deals behind closed doors, open killings followed by public denials, and rampant whataboutism.

The whole thing would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so tragic and dangerous. While the international community helps Ukraine to defend itself, Iran supports the invader. And it is not even covert support. Everyone in Ukraine and elsewhere can clearly see whose drones are targeting civilian buildings and energy infrastructure across the country. But the perpetrators use total denial as a defense mechanism, secure in the knowledge they remain beyond the reach of the international justice system.

Russian military analyst Ruslan Pushkov’s “unfortunate” appearance on Russian TV serves as a perfect illustration of how absurd the situation is.

In his latest interview, Pushkov was asked to speak about the changing global markets. He was sure that he was not yet on air, but his microphone was very much hot. Before the hosts could interrupt him, Pushkov asked them not to mention Iranian drones: “Let’s not rock the boat. Don’t ask me about the Iranian drones. We all know they are Iranian, but the government doesn’t officially admit it,” Pushkov said.

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Iranian Ambassador to the UN, Amir Saeid Iravani, also denied his country has supplied Russia with drones for use in Ukraine, following the UNSC meeting on Oct. 19.

During the press stake-out, Iravani accused the West of running a smear campaign against Iran, echoing Polyanskiy’s words.

Tehran would not violate a Security Council resolution by shipping drones to Russia, he said.

“Iran is of the firm belief that none of its arms exports, including UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], to any country fall within the provisions of paragraph four of annex B to resolution 2231,” Iravani added, referring to the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which restricts certain arms transfers to and from Iran.

Just like Russia tends to do, he used the platform to make a claim on which he did not want to be challenged in any way, refusing to answer any questions journalists had prepared. While they were all screaming questions about arms supplies, he just grinned and left.

His grin spelled it all out to me. Iravani, much like the Russians, knows that the democratic world cannot use the same rapid means of influence and coercion autocrats love so much.

Like glacially-slow mammoths, Western institutions that are supposed to bring accountability, are bogged down in resolutions, documents, court rulings, and investigations. It could take months to hold Iran accountable, another rogue state that remains dangerously close to obtaining nuclear weapons.

“As was outlined during today’s meeting, there is ample evidence that Russia is using Iranian-made UAVs in cruel and deliberate attacks against the people of Ukraine, including against civilians and critical civilian infrastructure,” U.S. Mission to the United Nations Spokesperson Nate Evans said in a statement.

“By procuring these weapons in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions Russia continues to flout international law in its pursuit of a senseless and brutal war against Ukraine.”

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