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Russia Involved in Plot to Help Iran Bust US Oil Sanctions

Sanctioned Russian ships ferrying illicit Iranian crude oil in new sanctions-busting scheme
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei (Alexei Druzhinin/AFP via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on November 23, 2015. Putin arrived in Tehran for talks with Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, with the Syrian conflict expected to be high on the agenda. The one-day visit will also see Putin take part in a summit of gas exporting countries. AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / ALEXEI DRUZHININ / AFP / SPUTNIK / ALEXEI DRUZHININ (Photo credit should read ALEXEI DRUZHININ/AFP via Getty Images)

Sanctioned Russian tankers are carrying illicit Iranian oil, providing a fresh financial lifeline for Tehran and highlighting significant gaps in the Biden administration’s enforcement of sanctions.

The two tankers, named the Pegas and Linda, were recently sanctioned as part of U.S. efforts to isolate Russian businesses over the Ukrainian invasion. It has now become apparent that the two ships have been ferrying illicit Iranian crude oil in recent months, a move experts see as a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions and signal an increase in Tehran-Moscow relations. Satellite imagery and detailed information on both vessels were provided to the Washington Free Beacon by United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a watchdog group that closely tracks Tehran’s illicit oil trade.

Russia’s involvement in the shipment of sanctioned Iranian crude oil highlights the growing ties between both regimes, particularly as Moscow faces international isolation for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. As Russia is choked off from Western financial institutions, it is likely to further bolster Tehran’s illicit sanctions-busting schemes to help it offset international sanctions.

Russia, UANI said in a Thursday statement on the situation, "has joined its ally China in participating in Iranian sanctions-busting schemes to smuggle crude oil and gas." Russia, China, and Iran are now leading the charge to bust U.S. oil sanctions. The anti-U.S. alliance between these rogue nations is generating scrutiny amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and efforts by the Biden administration to ink a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran—an agreement that will provide the hardline regime in Tehran with billions of dollars in cash windfalls. Russia has emerged as the United States' top interlocutor in these talks, drawing outrage from many hawks in Congress who want to see Moscow completely isolated.

"Iran has continuously worked to evade sanctions on its oil exports. Given that Russia and Iran have openly expressed their desire to expand cooperation, it is not surprising that Iran has found a partner in Russia to help it do this," Claire Jungman, UANI’s chief of staff, told the Free Beacon. "Through the use of these now-sanctioned Russian tankers, Iran continues to generate billions in revenue to fund its malign activity. As Russia becomes more isolated, we might see these two countries working even closer together as they work to evade sanctions and generate revenue."

The tanker Linda first loaded Iranian crude oil on Jan. 30, via a ship-to-ship transfer from the Emerald, another flagged tanker that was accused of leaking Iranian oil off of Israel’s coast, according to the satellite imagery reviewed by the Free Beacon. The Linda is now heading for Malaysia with the Iranian oil in tow. Malaysia indicated on Tuesday that it will block the ship entry as part of an effort to penalize Russia for its war in Ukraine. There is also evidence the Linda may have changed its name to Inda in a bid to avoid detection in international databases.

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