The position of the ships, including the floating military base called Makran, indicates that they are likely heading to St. Petersburg to participate in the Russian Navy Day events, according to two defense officials familiar with the movements of the ships.
The Pentagon has been monitoring the ships for about two months as they round the southern tip of Africa and appear ready to cross the Atlantic for Venezuela. Pentagon officials were concerned about the potential 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 move gradually north instead of crossing the Atlantic.
Venezuela’s decision to refuse Iranian ships came after the United States exerted diplomatic pressure on Caracas and the regime of Nicolas Maduro, two officials said at the time. The United States has also exerted diplomatic pressure on other countries along the route of Iranian ships, including countries in West Africa, such as Senegal.
The Makran was seen at the end of April on satellite images from Maxar Technologies in the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran with seven small rapid attack boats on its deck. A smaller frigate accompanies the Makran.
Last month, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the delivery of Iranian weapons to the Western Hemisphere would be seen as an “act of provocation” and a “threat to our partners”. Earlier, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin 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 to Russia or head to the Mediterranean Sea and return to Iran. The latter scenario was considered unlikely as it would appear to be a failure for Iran.
The ship’s current position in the Baltic Sea and its direction make its destination clearer, defense officials said. Russian Navy Day is scheduled for Sunday in St. Petersburg, and it looks like the Makran will somehow participate in the events, officials said.