Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says new Western sanctions against Iran are aimed at "strangling" the economy and possibly inciting popular unrest.
Lavrov, speaking at an annual press conference on January 18, reiterated Russia's opposition to further UN Security Council sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear program, saying UN sanctions had "exhausted" their potential.
"This [economic sanctions] really has nothing to do with the desire to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime," he said. "This is really seriously calculated to have a suffocating effect on the Iranian economy and on the situation of the Iranian population, in an apparent attempt to provoke discontent."
Lavrov also said that new sanctions could hinder efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program through talks.
The Russian foreign minister also said Russia was worried about the prospect of military action against Iran, which he said would be a "catastrophe."
"The consequences [of a possible attack on Iran] will be most difficult," Lavrov said. "We are very seriously concerned about it because there will be refugees, a large number of refugees from Iran."
He added: "It is impossible to predict all the consequences. I have no doubt that it would pour fuel on the already smoldering fire of the Sunni-Shi'ite conflict and cause a chain reaction. I don't know where it would stop."
Western powers suspect Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing the capability to build atomic bombs, a charge Iran denies.
The European Union is considering whether to impose sanctions on buying Iranian oil, while the United States recently targeted Iran's central bank, which handles Iran's oil revenues.
Lavrov also warned against military intervention in Syria. He said Russia has no intention of justifying its actions in Syria following suspicions that a Russian-operated ship that arrived in Syria last week was carrying ammunition.
At the same press conference, he also said Russia will not abide by its World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments with the United States unless Washington scraps a trade law that dates back to the Cold War.
Lavrov said Moscow was growing impatient with U.S. promises to repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law, which denies Russia normal trade relations status. The law was initially passed to pressure the Soviet Union to allow emigration, primarily of Jews.
"When the process of ratifying the documents about our accession to the WTO is completed, if the Jackson-Vanik amendment is still in force, then the agreements we have concluded within the WTO framework will not be applied to our trade with the United States," Lavrov said.
U.S. presidents have granted Russia annual waivers to the law since 1994, but it remains a political sticking point in trade relations.
The WTO approved Russia as its newest member in December. Russia will become a full member 30 days after its parliament ratifies the WTO agreement, with a vote expected sometime between June and September.
compiled from agency reports