A purported arms contract seen by Sky News offers the first hard evidence that Iran has sold ammunition to Russia for its war in Ukraine, an informed security source has claimed.
If authentic, the 16-page document, dated 14 September 2022, appears to be for samples of varying sizes of artillery, tank shells and rockets worth just over $1m (£800,000).
It was shared by the source along with five pages of an allegedly linked contract that includes barrels of a T72 tank and barrels of a Howitzer artillery piece, as well as ammunition shells. That deal was worth about $740,000 (£590,000).
Sky News has not been able to verify the authenticity of the documents independently.
However, the security source alleged: “This is a contract between the Iranians and the Russians regarding munitions… We believe it is 100% authentic.”
Kyiv and London said they planned to investigate the authenticity of the material and would take action if it was found to be credible.
“We suspected that there’s something like that happening,” Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, told Sky News in a recent interview.
“As soon as we verify it properly, we will be able to act upon this.”
Mr Cleverly, in a separate interview, said: “When information is presented to us, we will look to assess it and to validate it. And of course, we will make decisions based on that.”
He said the UK had already imposed sanctions on Tehran after the regime supplied attack drones to Russia, which have terrorised Ukrainian cities.
“Where we have evidence that Iran has provided military support to Russia in Russia’s attempted invasion of Ukraine we have taken action and we will, of course, always do likewise,” the foreign secretary said.
The informed security source alleged the purported arms contract was evidence of this support extending to ammunition and other military equipment.
“It is our assessment that these were weapons ‘samples’ before further shipments,” the source claimed.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is draining stockpiles of ammunition on both sides.
Western allies are scrambling to keep arming Kyiv, while Moscow has put its defence industry on a war-footing.
But with the economic hit by sanctions, the Kremlin has also sought help from its friends.
Sky News has previously reported allegations that Iran supplied large quantities of bullets and ammunition to Russia via cargo ships on the Caspian Sea in January.
While it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the contract, Sky News showed the file to a number of experts. They said the content was “plausible” and the date – 14 September 2022 – matched with separate reporting about this kind of transaction allegedly taking place.
Russia-Iran arms contracts make ‘perfect sense’
Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, who has spent a lot of time in Ukraine covering the war and is also an expert on Iran, said it would make “perfect sense” for Moscow and Tehran to agree contracts for arms sales.
“There was nothing in there that struck me as making it incredible,” Mr Watling said, referring to the documents.
“It seemed perfectly reasonable. The timing matched up with when we started to see certain transfers being made. And there were a lot of specific details, like, for example, the use of Swiss jurisdiction for arbitration in the case of a dispute between the parties that also looked quite credible in terms of previous Iranian practice.”
The purported contact
Headlined: “In the name of Allah”, the purported contact “for the delivery of ammunition” is allegedly between the Ministry of Defence and Logistics of the Armed Forces of Iran and Russia’s state military exporting and importing company, JSC Rosoboronexport.
The agreement is identified by this number: NoIR-RU-2022 6001/1/NoP/2236478020960.
The document is split into sections – each with a numbered article – like any normal contract.
Key details are listed like payment for the samples of ammunition – $1,013,100 (£813,000).
The file is written in English, which is customary for contracts drawn up by Iran with other countries, according to the security source.
It also contains a number of spelling mistakes, such as the sub-heading for article five, which reads: “Terms of delivery and transpotation (sic)”.
The security source said such typos were possible. This was an opinion shared by another expert who also viewed the files.
An internationally recognised set of regulations and terms that underpin trade deals, known as the INCOTERMS, or International Commercial Terms, are cited – making the covert sale of arms seem almost mundane.
One paragraph reads: “5.9 Right of ownership and risk of loss or damage of the subject of the contract shall be transferred from the supplier to the customer under terms and conditions of FOB/INCOTERMS 2010.”
This section on the transportation of the goods, also reveals the plan was to fly the ammunition samples to Russia from Iran.
They must be delivered within 10 working days after payment.
“5.13 The Customer shall review all the required permissions and execute all formalities to import the subject of the contract to the Russian Federation and receive all the permissions to accept air vessel at the Russian airport,” it said.
“5.14 The Supplier shall provide assistance to the customer in receiving of all other documents that could be required for customer’s air vessel flying out from shipment airport with cargo prohibited to be transported by air prior receipt of the necessary permissions and import of the subject of the contract to the Russian Federation territory and provide to the customer all the information about the subject of the contract necessary for customs clearance execution during import.”
Article seven of the contract talks about the impact of what is referred to as “force majeure” even though one party to the deal is already fighting a war and the other is known for arming and supporting militias across the Middle East. These facts are not mentioned.
The contract reads: “7.1 Inability of any party to comply with any of its liabilities under the contract shall not be considered a violation of the contract if this is caused by the circumstances of force majeure.
“7.2 The force majeure circumstances are understood to be the unforeseeable circumstances which are beyond the reasonable limits of control of each party and prevent the party from complying with its obligations.
“Such circumstances shall not be a result of errors or carelessness of the parties and shall include war, strikes, earthquake, convulsions of nature, lightning, hurricanes, floods, fires, epidemics, epizooties, quarantine inhibits, sabotages.”
Article eight sets out how the contract is governed by a private codification of international contract law known as the UNIDROIT Principles.
These principles are approved by an inter-governmental organisation called the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), which has more than 60 member states, including Iran and Russia but also the UK, the US and other Western allies.
The contract says any dispute that cannot be settled amicably would be dealt with by Swiss arbitration in Zurich.
“8.3 If it is impossible to achieve a joint agreement within 90 days after one of the parties was notified by the other party in written [sic] about points of issue in accordance with this article and then all points of issue shall be settled under the Swiss Rules of International Arbitration Institution of the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution. Award of the arbitration is final and binding upon both parties.”
Under article nine – “Assignment of rights and intellectual property” – the agreement discusses the protection of Iran’s intellectual property rights over its weapons.
“9.2 Customer shall observe supplier’s intellectual property and copyright during and after the contract for always. There for [sic] the customer is not allowed to produce, or reverse engineering [sic] of the same or similar or scale (up & down scale) for all the products and systems (subjected in article 2) during and after the contract for always.”
Article 14 is for the signatures of the two parties.
It is blank on this page but signatures appear several times on a supplementary section that was also shared with Sky News.
A first annex to contract includes a table – entitled “TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS” – with items listed in Russian and large sample quantities.
They include 40,000 of 122mm high-explosive rounds, 14,000 of 152mm high-explosive rounds and 10,000 of 125mm high-explosive shells.
Is Iran ‘ripping Putin off’?
However, a separate annex to the contract comprises another table of the same kind of ammunition.
It lists 10 different products – each one a varying size or specification of different ammunition rounds.
It also includes the price of each 100-piece batch.
The total – for just 1,000 rounds – adds up to $1,013,100.
Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former army officer, said he thought this was quite expensive if it was for such a relatively small quantity. “Let’s hope the Iranians are ripping [Vladimir] Putin off!” he said.
The contract includes an “end user certificate”. The name of the end user is left blank but it specifies the munitions must only be used “for the declared purposes and re-export or transfer them to third countries without written consent”.
These declared purposes are not mentioned.
The supplement is from September 2022 but without a specific day mentioned.
It is described as a supplement to a contract numbered: NoIR-RU-2022 6001/1/N2P/2236478020959, which is dated 14 September 2020.
That is the same day as the contract Sky News has seen, which is marked as: NoIR-RU-2022 6001/1/N2P/2236478020960
The security source said it was thought a number of related contracts and supplementary sections were signed at around the same time by the two parties.
The first page of the supplement is marked with two signatures. Signatures also appear on subsequent pages.
Contract shows Russia ‘running low’ on ammo
A table on page five of the supplementary section covers samples of ammunition and weapons worth $741,860 (£595,847).
This includes two 125mm barrels for the 2A46M gun of a T72 tank – each barrel priced at $85,750 – and two 122mm barrels for a D-30 Howitzer artillery piece – at a cost per barrel of $54,750.
The supplement also lists parts of ammunition to be sent, including 12 pieces respectively of the “shell body” and “brass case” of 122mm and 152mm ammunition.
The Ukrainian ambassador said the contract, if authentic, was evidence Russia is running low on war-fighting stocks.
Mr Prystaiko added: “That they’re actually talking about simple stuff like the armaments, like ammunition, this is showing that the Russian position is quite difficult indeed.”