Triple Threat: Russia, Iran, and North Korea Trade Arms to Get Around Sanctions

December 28, 2022

Weapon Program: 

  • Military


Darya Dolzikova, Daniel Salisbury


Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Related Country: 

  • North Korea
  • Russia

On December 16, CIA Director William Burns expressed concern over what he believes to be “at least the beginnings of a full-fledged defense partnership” between Iran and Russia. A few days earlier, the Russian military launched a wave of Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in an attack on Kyiv. These developments followed months of Iranian UAV use by Russian forces in Ukraine and discussion of potential Iranian missile transfers to the Russian military. Recent reports also suggest that the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, has purchased infantry rockets and missiles from North Korea, several months after US officials first suggested Russia had approached that country for munitions.

Cooperation in the economic and military sphere between countries under sanctions and arms embargoes is not a new phenomenon. Recent reports of Russian procurement of military equipment from Iran and North Korea, therefore, come as no surprise. As Russia faces ever-tightening restrictions on its economy and military procurement, Moscow will likely continue leveraging trade opportunities that Tehran and Pyongyang present, relying on well-established methods of illicit trade and sanction evasion. To develop more effective countermeasures, it is important to understand how Moscow may rely on established sanction-evasion practices and the unique challenges it may present.


Read the full article on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website.