WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Tuesday it had moved to disrupt an Iranian-Russian network that sent millions of barrels of oil to Syria and hundreds of millions of dollars to indirectly fund militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
The complicated arrangement, described by the U.S. Treasury in a statement, involved a Russia-based company run by a Syrian citizen that shipped Iranian oil to Syria with the aid of a Russian state-owned company.
Syria then helped transfer hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to Hezbollah, which functions as a political party that is part of the Lebanese government and as a militia, as well as to Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip.
U.S. officials said Russia facilitated the delivery of oil from Iran to Syria, and that a variety of mechanisms were used in an attempt to conceal the shipments and oil-related payments.
The alleged arrangement shows how Russia has sought to undercut U.S. policy toward Syria, where Washington and Moscow back opposite sides of a civil war that began in 2011, as well as toward Iran, which the United States is seeking to isolate because of its nuclear and missile programs and support for militant proxies.
“Today we are acting against a complex scheme Iran and Russia have used to bolster the (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad regime and generate funds for Iranian malign activity,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing sanctions on those it said were tied to the network.
“Central Bank of Iran officials continue to exploit the international financial system,” he added.
Among those targeted are Syrian national Mohammad Amer Alchwiki and his Russia-based company, Global Vision Group, the Treasury Department said in a statement.
Other targets include: Syrian national Hajji Abd Al-Nasir, Lebanon national Muhammad Qasim Al-Bazzal and Russian national Andrey Dogaev as well as Iranian nationals Rasoul Sajjad and Hossein Yaghoubi Miab, the statement said.
State-owned Russian company Promsyrioimport, a subsidiary of the Russian Ministry of Energy, was also sanctioned along with Mir Business Bank and Iran-based Tadbir Kish Medical and Pharmaceutical Company.
The Treasury’s “designation” of the individuals and entities effectively cuts them off from the global financial system by blocking any of their assets under U.S. jurisdiction and in effect warning non-U.S. institutions against dealing with them.
The United States is at odds with key European allies Britain, France and Germany as well as with Russia and China over U.S. President Donald Trump’s May 8 decision to abandon the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, negotiated with the other world powers during Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.
That agreement had removed many U.S. and other economic sanctions from Iran in return for Tehran’s commitment to curtail its nuclear program.
Trump restored those U.S. sanctions, including measures targeting Iran’s oil, banking and transportation sectors, on Nov. 5 and his administration threatened more action to stop its “outlaw” policies.
Iran, in turn, called Trump’s actions economic warfare and vowed to defy the sanctions. European powers that continue to back the nuclear deal said they opposed the reapplication of sanctions and major oil buyer China said it regretted the move.