The Iranian airline Qeshm Fars Air – controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – has reportedly operated a minimum of seven flights to Moscow since April, amidst speculation that Iran is providing weapons and fighters to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. The airline has been accused numerous times of carrying weapons and soldiers to its partners to help them evade sanctions, and there are concerns that Iran could be attempting to transport Syrian mercenaries into Russia.
The U.S.-sanctioned Iranian airline Qeshm Fars Air has flown to Moscow at least seven times since around mid-April, according to the flight tracking service FlightRadar24. Qeshm Fars Air was sanctioned in 2019 for being operated by the already sanctioned Iranian airline Mahan Air and for transporting weapons and troops to Syria on behalf of the IRGC. Qeshm Fars Air continues to fly to Syria allowing the IRGC to maintain its military presence in the region and deliver weaponry to Iran’s proxy terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Qeshm Far Air not only operates illicitly in Syria, but around the world. Over the last two years it has regularly travelled to Venezuela and during the conflict between Ethiopia’s central government and the Tigray rebels, it flew to Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa at least seven times. The airline has also regularly flown cargo to Macau, Myanmar, and Tajikistan. According to retired U.S. Admiral Craig Faller, it is likely in at least some of these instances, Iran is using the airline to either transport military equipment or to help partners evade sanctions.
Therefore, Qeshm Fars Air could be aiding the transport of Syrian mercenaries to Russia, to help alleviate its manpower shortage in Ukraine, with Washington reporting in March that Russia was attempting to bolster its forces through recruitment of Syrians.
It remains unclear what the Iranian airline is specifically transporting to Russia, but given the accusations that Russia is committing war crimes and mass atrocities in Ukraine analysts believe it provides the U.S. with another reason to not delist the IRGC from its terror watch list.