Iran’s purchase of Su-35 fighter fighters represents Russia’s first major military deal under sanctions

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will be able to build five different squadrons with the help of 64 Russian Su-35 planes.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

According to official Iranian media, which is based on information provided by Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations (UN), Iran has successfully concluded the purchase of Su-35 aircraft from Russia.

During the conflict in 1988 between Iran and Iraq, Iran reportedly requested planes from several different countries, and Russia was one of the countries that answered affirmatively.

Reports indicate that after the arms embargo placed on Iran by the United Nations in 2007 was lifted in October 2020, attempts were made to purchase Su-35 aircraft from Russia, and the formalities for procuring the jets were finally completed.

According to the nuclear agreement that Tehran reached in 2015 between permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and Germany, the international arms embargo and the international travel ban on some Iranian officials were lifted in 2020

The report did not state when the purchase contract was signed or provide any information regarding the number of Su-35s that will be given to Iran by Russia.

“The details are not subject to publication because they are classified,” told the Iranian mission to the UN. 

According to local media sources, Iran’s initial acquisition of Russian aircraft would consist of 24 Su-35E multirole fighter jets.

Many media sites stated in January this year that Iran would acquire multiple Su-35 Flanker-E jets from Russia as early as March.

Together with the fighter jets, Iran will receive previously purchased military equipment, such as air defence systems, missile systems, and helicopters, according to Iranian politician Shahriyar Heydari, who recently spoke to the local media.

The procurement was initially disclosed by the commander of the Iranian Air Force, Hamid Vahedi, who indicated in September 2022 that the Iranian Air Force was considering the purchase of Russian Su-35 aircraft.

Frontier India reported in 2022 that Tehran planned to acquire an “Egyptian” batch of Su-35 fighters from Russia, a transaction discussed with Russia in December 2021. Egypt ordered approximately twenty Su-35S aircraft, but Cairo refused to accept them into the Egyptian Air Force, allegedly owing to American pressure. Iran needs a jet capable of withstanding the Israeli F-35I Adir, which, with modernisation, can reach Iran without refuelling. According to Western experts, the Su-35 is the sole aircraft capable of competing with the F-35s. The Iranian Air Force seeks to acquire the more expensive Su-35 rather than the Su-30SM.

According to reports, the Iranian air force needs at least 64 aircraft, 24 of which will be received on order from Egypt. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will be able to build five different squadrons with the help of 64 Russian Su-35 planes. One-third of the combat aircraft can be given to the Iranian Air Force by the end of this year, while the remaining fighters can be delivered by 2025.

Iran’s Air Force inventory consists of obsolete US-made F-4, F-5, and F-14 fighters and Soviet Mig-29 fighters and Su-24 bombers. Because of international embargoes, Iran has been unable to purchase planes for a long time.

Russia’s first major arms deal under sanctions

Following a string of sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe, including a ban on financial transactions in US dollars and Euros, Russia has not engaged in any significant military trade until now. The sale to Iran is the first such known transaction.

In February, Dmitry Shugaev, head of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) of the Russian Federation, told Interfax that despite Western sanctions, Moscow continues to meet all obligations in the field of arms exports.

Previous reports indicated that in recent years, the portfolio of orders for Russian arms exports has stayed at $50 billion, with the Russian Federation exporting approximately $14-15 billion worth of arms yearly.

The portfolio of orders for the supply of Russian weaponry and military equipment to India, according to Shugaev, surpasses $10 billion.

“Despite the unprecedented pressure on India from Western countries, led by the United States, in connection with Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, it continues to be one of Russia’s main partners in the field of military-technical cooperation. The portfolio of orders is more than 10 billion US dollars,” Shugaev said.

Over the past five years, Russia has supplied over $13 billion worth of weapons and military equipment to India, Shugaev added.

“As practice shows, Russia still remains one of the main players in the Indian arms market. Thus, over the past five years, the total value of exports of Russian military products to India has exceeded $13 billion,” Shugaev said.

On account of de-dollarisation and regional trade blocs such as BRICS and SCO, it is anticipated that Russia will sell more weapons on international markets. Iran and Russia have previously agreed to transact in their own national currencies.


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