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The Iranian ship Makran is seen in this satellite image of Maxar Technologies from the beginning of May 2021 in the Persian Gulf around the island of Larak. The ship appears to be loaded with seven small ships with rapid attack on its deck.
The position of the ships, including the floating military base called Makran, indicate that they are likely to head to St. Petersburg to attend Russia Navy Day events, according to two defense officials familiar with the ship’s movements.
The Pentagon has been monitoring the ships for about two months as they rounded off the southern tip of Africa and seemed determined to cross the Atlantic to Venezuela. Pentagon officials were concerned about the possible introduction of Iranian weapons into the Western Hemisphere and the possible transfer of weapons to Venezuela.
In mid-June, the ships, which were then off the coast of West Africa, began to incline north rather than across the Atlantic.
Venezuela’s decision to return Iranian ships came after the US put diplomatic pressure on Caracas and the regime of Nicolas Maduro, two officials said at the time. The U.S. also exerted diplomatic pressure on other countries along the route of Iranian ships, including countries in West Africa, such as Senegal.
Makran was seen in late April in satellite imagery by Maxar Technologies at the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran with seven small rapid attack vessels on its deck. A smaller frigate has been accompanying Makran.
Last month, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the distribution of Iranian weapons in the Western Hemisphere would be seen as a provocative act and a threat to our partners. Earlier, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had said he was absolutely concerned about the proliferation of weapons in the region.
Pentagon officials had been watching to see if the ships would continue north toward Russia or return to the Mediterranean Sea and return to Iran. The latter scenario was seen as impossible because it would seem to be a failure for Iran.
The current position of the ships in the Baltic Sea and its direction make its destination clearer, defense officials said. Russia Navy Day is scheduled for Sunday in St. Petersburg and it looks like Makran will attend the event in some way, officials said.
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