Iran’s U.S.-sanctioned IRGC-controlled airline Qeshm Fars Air has flown to Moscow at least seven times since mid-April after having made that trip only twice last year, according to the flight tracking service FlightRadar24. The airline’s sudden uptick in cargo flights to Moscow may reflect Iranian efforts to support Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Qeshm Fars Air in 2019 for being operated by the already sanctioned Iranian IRGC-controller airline Mahan Air and for carrying weapons and fighters to Syria on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is also under U.S. sanctions. Qeshm Fars Air continues to fly the Tehran-Damascus route on behalf of the IRGC, helping the Guard sustain its military presence in Syria and supply advanced weaponry to Iran’s proxy terrorist group in Lebanon, Hezbollah.
Qeshm Fars Air’s illicit activity likely goes beyond Syria. It has also regularly traveled to Venezuela in the past two years, likely ferrying Iranian weapons and helping Tehran and Caracas evade U.S. sanctions. During the conflict between Ethiopia’s central government and Tigray rebels, Qeshm Fars Air aircraft flew to Addis Ababa at least seven times from June to December 2021, alongside Pouya Air, another U.S.-sanctioned Iranian airline.
Qeshm Fars Air’s flights to Moscow may fit into this pattern. The first recorded flight occurred on April 15, three days after The Guardian reported that Iran had transferred rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles, multiple-launch rocket systems, and surface-to-air missile systems to Russia by ship through the Caspian Sea.
Qeshm Fars Air could also be helping transport Syrian mercenaries to Russia, especially considering that the airline’s flights to and from Damascus are ongoing. The Pentagon confirmed in early March that Moscow has sought to recruit fighters from Syria to help compensate for Russia’s shortage of manpower in Ukraine. Alternatively, Iran could be assisting Russia in its reported transfer of forces and equipment currently deployed in Syria for use in Ukraine.
While it remains unclear what exactly Qeshm Fars Air is ferrying to Russia, the uptick in flights raises concerns that the IRGC may be assisting Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine, where the Russian military has committed mass atrocities. If proven, this would offer an additional reason not to remove the IRGC from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.