Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Iran’s accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner last week occurred at a time when Tehran was spooked by reports of advanced United States stealth fighters in the area.
“There were at least six [US] F-35 fighters in the air in the Iranian border area [at the time]. This information has yet to be verified, but I’d like to underline the edginess that always accompanies such situations,” Lavrov said.
Iran’s downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, which killed all 176 people aboard, has created a crisis for the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers who have faced days of protests after the Iranian military admitted it had shot down the plane accidentally.
Lavrov, speaking at his annual news conference in Moscow, called the incident a human error and said he was not trying to excuse anyone for what happened.
But he said it was important to understand the context and that the incident had occurred hours after an Iranian missile attack on US bases in Iraq, when Iranian forces were braced for some kind of US military retaliation.
“There is information that the Iranians were expecting another attack from the United States after the strike but did not know what form it might take,” said Lavrov.
Just days after the Iranian regime fired missiles at military bases in Iraq and accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, Russia’s foreign minister has reiterated that Moscow supports full membership for Tehran in a Eurasian security bloc sometimes viewed as an aspiring counterweight to NATO and the West.
Speaking at a geopolitics forum in New Delhi, Sergei Lavrov noted that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) includes China, five former Soviet republics (Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan), India, and Pakistan.
“Iran is an observer and we are supportive of the Iranian request for full membership,” Lavrov said. “And most of the [SCO] countries support this request and I’m sure this would be satisfied.”
Russia holds the bloc’s rotating presidency this year, and will host its annual summit in July. Over the SCO’s two-decade lifetime, membership has expanded beyond the original six autocracies, with India and Pakistan becoming full members in 2017 and Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia enjoying observer status. But Russia and China continue to dominate it, and largely call the shots.
Asked for a reaction Wednesday to Lavrov’s comment about Iran joining, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was noncommittal.
“I understand Iran, already an observer of the SCO, has long been participating in relevant events,” he said. “With regard to SCO expansion, China will stay in close communication with other members and make decisions together.”
Lavrov’s remarks about Iran becoming a full member come at a time when the U.S. is urging other nations to isolate the regime over its persistent provocative behavior across the region.—Reuters