In a development that could escalate tensions in an already volatile region, the Russian navy has been caught aiding Iranian ships attempting to bring arms to the Tehran-backed rebels currently leading an insurgency in Yemen, according to informed Middle Eastern defense officials speaking on condition on anonymity.
The development comes after the Obama administration dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to the coast of Yemen reportedly to stop the Iranian weapons convoys headed to the country to help to Houthi rebels.
The defense officials said the Russian navy ships are attempting to create a clear path for the Iranian vessels to bypass the U.S. fleet and arrive in Yemen with the weapons.
The officials said Saudi Arabia, which backs the struggling Yemeni government, filed a complaint with Moscow about the Russian naval movements.
It was not immediately clear where the Russian navy was maneuvering exactly.
According to reports, Russia’s navy docked last Sunday in Yemen and helped to evacuate more than 650 people of different nationalities by both air and by sea. One of the Russian ships reportedly took in more than 308 evacuees last Sunday while approximately 350 more were moved via two Russian aircraft.
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The USS Roosevelt is currently tracking a convoy of Iranian ships heading to the Gulf of Aden, according to two defense officials again speaking on condition of anonymity.
Besides the Houthi insurgency, the Pentagon is also worried about the Bab al-Mandab gateway off Yemen’s coast, which connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden.
The gateway is critical as more than 3 million barrels of oil are shipped daily to Europe, the United States and Asia via it.
The Pentagon's announcement of the Roosevelt’s deployment stated that in recent days the U.S. Navy “has increased its presence in this area as a result of the current instability.”
“The purpose of these operations,” the Pentagon explained, “is to ensure the vital shipping lanes in the region remain open and safe.”
The Russian ships further escalate already high tensions in the region. The slightest conflict could drastically impact the flow of vital crude oil through the region and roil international markets.