© Reuters. A man stands next to cars destroyed by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, at a residential area in Kharkiv, December 8, 2022. REUTERS/Vitalii Hnidyi
By Sabine Siebold and John Irish
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers on Monday condemned Iran for its crackdown on anti-government protests and its drone deliveries to Russia, while moving ahead with a new package of sanctions meant to raise pressure on Tehran.
The EU “will take any action we can to support young women and peaceful demonstrators,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
Tehran on Monday executed a second man involved in anti-government protests that have turned into a popular revolt by Iranians from all layers of society, posing one of the biggest legitimacy challenges to the Shi’ite clerical elite since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“With this sanctions package, we are targeting in particular those who are responsible for the executions, the violence against innocent people…these are especially the Revolutionary Guards,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.
While agreed in principle by the member states, the sanctions might be formally approved only on Tuesday, a diplomatic source said.
A diplomatic source said last week that 21 individuals and one entity would be sanctioned over human rights abuses, while there had been 10 proposals over the issue of drones.
In a statement, the ministers said: “The European Union strongly condemns the widespread, brutal and disproportionate use of force by the Iranian authorities against peaceful protesters, including women and children, leading to the loss of hundreds of lives”.
The bloc also criticised Iran over drone deliveries to Russia.
“These weapons provided by Iran are being used indiscriminately by Russia against Ukrainian civilian population and infrastructure causing horrendous destruction and human suffering,” the statement said.
Western powers have also said that they continue to see provision of Iranian drones to Russia and believe Tehran will also soon supply ballistic missiles.
Iran has said it shipped a small number of drones to Russia before its invasion of Ukraine. Russia has denied its forces have used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine.
Separately, the EU ministers also agreed on Monday to put another 2 billion euros ($2.1 billion) into a fund that has been used to pay for military support for Ukraine, after it was largely depleted during almost 10 months of the war.
More top-ups may be possible at a later stage.
“Today’s decision will ensure that we have the funding to continue delivering concrete military support to our partners’ armed forces,” Borrell said.
Ministers were also set to discuss a ninth package of Russia sanctions.
However, it remained unclear whether Hungary would block these decisions, resorting to what diplomats have denounced as “blackmail diplomacy” due to a dispute over locked EU funds for Budapest, or if it could be agreed on later on Monday or Tuesday.
Foreign ministers also paved the way for a three-year military mission to Niger, with 50-100 troops at first and later up to 300 to help the country improve its logistics and infrastructure.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Niger is seen as being at risk of a possible spillover of violence from neighbouring Mali, where Islamist militants are gaining ground following the withdrawal of French and other European forces.
($1 = 0.9497 euros)