many of the same ships have recently started trading Venezuelan oil that is under U.S. sanctions.

The spread of AIS manipulation by E.U.-registered vessels shows how advances in technology allow some shipowners to earn windfall profits from commodities under sanction while benefiting from European financial services and legal safeguards.

Cyprus’s deputy shipping minister, Vassilios Demetriades, said illegal manipulation of on-ship equipment is punishable by fines or criminal penalties under the island’s laws. But he has downplayed the problem, saying AIS’s “value and trustworthiness as a location device is rather limited.”

According to Cyprus’s corporate documents, Reliable belongs to a company owned by Christos Georgantzoglou, 81, a Greek businessman. The ship crossed the Atlantic for the first time shortly after Mr. Georgantzoglou’s company bought it last year, and has transmitted locations around eastern Caribbean Islands since, according to Windward’s analysis.

But Venezuela’s state oil company records reviewed by The New York Times show that Reliable was working for the Venezuelan government in the country during that time.

Mr. Georgantzoglou and his company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Their Venezuelan dealings appear to contradict a promise made by Greece’s powerful shipowners association in 2020 to stop transporting the country’s oil. The association did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Reliable is still moving fuel around Venezuelan ports or loading crude onto Asia-bound ships in open waters to hide its origin, according to two Venezuelan oil businessmen, who asked not to be named for security reasons. It still broadcasts coordinates of a ship adrift in the Caribbean Sea.

Adriana Loureiro Fernandez and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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Ukraine Steps Up Strikes in the South

Credit…Iranian Army, via Associated Press

Iran delivered to Russia the first batch of two types of military drones this month as part of a larger order totaling hundreds of the aerial war machines, according to an Iranian adviser to the government and two U.S. administration officials who were not authorized to speak on the record.

American officials said Russia could deploy the Iranian-made drones in its war against Ukraine to conduct air-to-surface attacks, carry out electronic warfare and identify targets.

Iran has officially said that it would not provide either side of the conflict with military equipment but has confirmed that a drone deal with Russia was part of a military agreement that predated the invasion of Ukraine.

Over several days in August, Russian transport aircraft loaded the drone equipment at an airfield in Iran and subsequently flew to Russia, according to the two U.S. officials.But the first shipments of Iranian-supplied drones, the American officials said, have had mechanical and technical problems.

The drone shipment, and the mechanical problems, was earlier reported by The Washington Post.

Iran’s military deal with Russia is part of a larger strategy by the Islamic Republic to pivot toward forming strategic economic partnerships with China and security partnerships with Russia.

This shift, analysts say, accelerated after President Donald J. Trump exited the nuclear deal and imposed tough sanctions on Iran. European companies, fearing secondary sanctions by the United States, then ended nearly all business transactions and investments with Iran, prompting the country to look east and north.

“From Iran’s perspective, relations with the U.S. cannot be improved, and the Europeans are not powerful enough to protect Iranian interests,” said Sina Azodi, a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council, an international affairs research institute. “But Russia and China can help Iran counter the West.”

Russia, for its part, has found a welcome new ally in Iran to help it evade the sanctions imposed by much of the world after its invasion of Ukraine. President Vladimir V. Putin traveled to Iran in July to meet with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other senior officials.

The two types of drones being provided to Russia are the Iranian-manufactured Mohajer-6 and Shahed series. Russian operators are receiving training on the drones in Iran, according to the Iranian adviser and American officials familiar with the transfer.

The Mohajer-6 has the capability to carry out surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and the Shahed series is considered among the most capable of Iran’s military drones, according to comments made by the Iranian military to local news media.

Iran is a pioneer in drone technology, with at least four decades of design and manufacturing experience, and it has been providing combat drones to military groups and proxy militia in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

Officials in Israel, the United States and some Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia have said they are increasingly concerned that Iran’s advancing drone technology could destabilize the region and empower militias backed by Iran.

In the shadow war between Iran and Israel, Iranian drones have been involved in attacks on ships and have targeted U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria. Israel has also attacked a secret facility in western Iran where hundreds of drones were believed to have been stored.

Iran has quietly ramped up its drone sales far beyond the region as it seeks to be a global player in the drone market. Iran has sold drones to Ethiopia, Sudan and Venezuela; in May, it inaugurated a joint drone-manufacturing factory in Tajikistan.

The United States has been warning since last month that Russia intended to receive drones from Iran. The Russian military is experiencing major supply shortages in Ukraine, in part because of sanctions and export controls, forcing Russia to rely on countries like Iran for supplies and equipment.

The terms of the Iran-Russia drone deal were not immediately clear. The adviser to the government said no money had yet been exchanged.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, will travel to Moscow on Wednesday to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, to discuss the latest negotiations for a nuclear deal, Iran’s foreign ministry announced on Monday.

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Live Updates: Ukraine Announces Military Push in South; U.N. to Inspect Nuclear Site

Credit…Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Monday that it was dispatching a team of experts to inspect a nuclear complex in southern Ukraine that has been imperiled by shelling, launching a crucial but highly risky mission to ease global fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

After weeks of contentious negotiations involving Russia, whose forces occupy the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, and Ukraine, whose engineers are keeping it running amid near-daily artillery strikes in the area, the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency announced that the inspectors were “on their way” and would reach the site later this week.

Both Russia and Ukraine welcomed the announcement by the I.A.E.A. director general, Rafael M. Grossi, even as they repeated accusations that the other side was responsible for the shelling. Mr. Grossi did not specify how the mission would reach Zaporizhzhia, which is Europe’s largest nuclear facility, a sprawling complex of six light-water reactors, cooling towers, machine rooms and radioactive waste storage sites.

If the inspectors travel through Ukrainian territory to reach the plant, which is located along the Dnipro River in a part of southern Ukraine controlled by Russian forces, they would become one of the few international missions to cross the front line during the six-month war.

The I.A.E.A. has said that at Zaporizhzhia its team would check on safety systems, assess damage to the plant and evaluate the staff’s working conditions. Among the main concerns is that fires or other damage could cause cooling systems to fail and lead to a nuclear meltdown.

But the agency did not immediately disclose the timing of the visit or security arrangements, a sign of the complexities and dangers of the mission, even for an agency that has monitored nuclear sites in Iran, North Korea and other challenging locations.

Russia’s envoy to the I.A.E.A., Mikhail Ulyanov, said that Moscow would facilitate the visit, and that the agency has signaled that it intends to station some experts at the Zaporizhzhia complex “on a permanent basis,” the state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said on Monday that he expected the I.A.E.A. experts would conclude that Russia was putting “the entire world at risk of nuclear accident,” and repeated Ukraine’s calls for Moscow to withdraw its forces from the plant.

The area where the plant is located has seen some of the most intense recent fighting in the war, as strikes along the entire southern front line hit ammunition depots, towns and military bases. The plant has come under sporadic shelling since early August, although the extent of the damage to it remains unclear.

Last week, after fighting severed a high-tension electrical line, the Zaporizhzhia facility was temporarily disconnected from the nation’s power grid for the first time, Ukrainian officials said. Operators implemented emergency procedures to cool the reactor cores with pumps powered by diesel generators, but the event underscored the extreme danger posed by nearby fighting.

Plant employees and outside experts say an artillery strike would not penetrate the yard-thick reinforced concrete of the containment vessels over the six reactors, but could damage the reactors’ supporting equipment or spark fires that could burn out of control. Artillery strikes could also breach less robust containers used to store spent nuclear fuel.

Fears of a possible radiation leak if the plant is further damaged have prompted Ukrainian officials to start distributing potassium iodide, a drug that can protect against some radiation poisoning, to people living within 35 miles of the plant.

On Monday, Dmytro Orlov, the exiled mayor of Enerhodar, the Russian-occupied town near the plant, said that two neighborhoods in the city were hit by shelling overnight that he blamed on Russian forces. Energoatom, the Ukrainian nuclear energy company, said that the Russian shelling had wounded 10 residents of Enerhodar, including four employees of the plant.

Negotiations to allow I.A.E.A. inspectors access went on for weeks, with Russia reportedly insisting that inspectors travel through Russian territory to access the plant. Ukraine objected because that would have underscored Russian control over the facility, which provides 20 percent of Ukraine’s electricity.

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Cloud Wars: Mideast Rivalries Rise Along a New Front

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Iranian officials have worried for years that other nations have been depriving them of one of their vital water sources. But it was not an upstream dam that they were worrying about, or an aquifer being bled dry.

In 2018, amid a searing drought and rising temperatures, some senior officials concluded that someone was stealing their water from the clouds.

“Both Israel and another country are working to make Iranian clouds not rain,” said Brig. Gen. Gholan Reza Jalali, a senior official in the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps in a 2018 speech.

are turning up at the water’s surface.

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  • While there had been enough water to sustain the tiny country’s population in 1960, when there were fewer than 100,000 people, by 2020 the population had ballooned to nearly 10 million. And the demand for water soared, as well. United Arab Emirates residents now use roughly 147 gallons per person a day, compared with the world average of 47 gallons, according to a 2021 research paper funded by the emirates.

    Currently, that demand is being met by desalination plants. Each facility, however, costs $1 billion or more to build and requires prodigious amounts of energy to run, especially when compared with cloud seeding, said Abdulla Al Mandous, the director of the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology in the emirates and the leader of its cloud-seeding program.

    After 20 years of research and experimentation, the center runs its cloud-seeding program with near military protocols. Nine pilots rotate on standby, ready to bolt into the sky as soon as meteorologists focusing on the country’s mountainous regions spot a promising weather formation — ideally, the types of clouds that can build to heights of as much as 40,000 feet.

    They have to be ready on a moment’s notice because promising clouds are not as common in the Middle East as in many other parts of the world.

    “We are on 24-hour availability — we live within 30 to 40 minutes of the airport — and from arrival here, it takes us 25 minutes to be airborne,” said Capt. Mark Newman, a South African senior cloud-seeding pilot. In the event of multiple, potentially rain-bearing clouds, the center will send more than one aircraft.

    The United Arab Emirates uses two seeding substances: the traditional material made of silver iodide and a newly patented substance developed at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi that uses nanotechnology that researchers there say is better adapted to the hot, dry conditions in the Persian Gulf. The pilots inject the seeding materials into the base of the cloud, allowing it to be lofted tens of thousands of feet by powerful updrafts.

    And then, in theory, the seeding material, made up of hygroscopic (water attracting) molecules, bonds to the water vapor particles that make up a cloud. That combined particle is a little bigger and in turn attracts more water vapor particles until they form droplets, which eventually become heavy enough to fall as rain — with no appreciable environmental impact from the seeding materials, scientists say.

    That is in theory. But many in the scientific community doubt the efficacy of cloud seeding altogether. A major stumbling block for many atmospheric scientists is the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of documenting net increases in rainfall.

    “The problem is that once you seed, you can’t tell if the cloud would have rained anyway,” said Alan Robock, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University and an expert in evaluating climate engineering strategies.

    Another problem is that the tall cumulus clouds most common in summer in the emirates and nearby areas can be so turbulent that it is difficult to determine if the seeding has any effect, said Roy Rasmussen, a senior scientist and an expert in cloud physics at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

    Israel, a pioneer in cloud seeding, halted its program in 2021 after 50 years because it seemed to yield at best only marginal gains in precipitation. It was “not economically efficient,” said Pinhas Alpert, an emeritus professor at the University of Tel Aviv who did one of the most comprehensive studies of the program.

    Cloud seeding got its start in 1947, with General Electric scientists working under a military contract to find a way to de-ice planes in cold weather and create fog to obscure troop movements. Some of the techniques were later used in Vietnam to prolong the monsoon season, in an effort to make it harder for the North Vietnamese to supply their troops.

    While the underlying science of cloud seeding seems straightforward, in practice, there are numerous problems. Not all clouds have the potential to produce rain, and even a cloud seemingly suitable for seeding may not have enough moisture. Another challenge in hot climates is that raindrops may evaporate before they reach the ground.

    Sometimes the effect of seeding can be larger than expected, producing too much rain or snow. Or the winds can shift, carrying the clouds away from the area where the seeding was done, raising the possibility of “unintended consequences,” notes a statement from the American Meteorological Society.

    “You can modify a cloud, but you can’t tell it what to do after you modify it,” said James Fleming, an atmospheric scientist and historian of science at Colby College in Maine.

    “It might snow; it might dissipate. It might go downstream; it might cause a storm in Boston,” he said, referring to an early cloud-seeding experiment over Mount Greylock in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

    This seems to be what happened in the emirates in the summer of 2019, when cloud seeding apparently generated such heavy rains in Dubai that water had to be pumped out of flooded residential neighborhoods and the upscale Dubai mall.

    Despite the difficulties of gathering data on the efficacy of cloud seeding, Mr. Al Mandous said the emirates’ methods were yielding at least a 5 percent increase in rain annually — and almost certainly far more. But he acknowledged the need for data covering many more years to satisfy the scientific community.

    Over last New Year’s weekend, said Mr. Al Mandous, cloud seeding coincided with a storm that produced 5.6 inches of rain in three days — more precipitation than the United Arab Emirates often gets in a year.

    In the tradition of many scientists who have tried to modify the weather, he is ever optimistic. There is the new cloud-seeding nanosubstance, and if the emirates just had more clouds to seed, he said, maybe they could make more rain for the country.

    And where would those extra clouds come from?

    “Making clouds is very difficult,” he acknowledged. “But, who knows, maybe God will send us somebody who will have the idea of how to make clouds.”

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    Live Updates: U.S. Seeks African Support in Ukraine War

    Credit…Pool photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko

    WASHINGTON — Immediately after a Moscow judge handed down Brittney Griner’s nine-year prison sentence on Thursday, calls grew louder for President Biden to find a way to bring her home, even as critics fumed that offering to swap prisoners with Moscow rewarded Russian hostage-taking.

    The result is a painful quandary for the Biden administration as it tries to maintain a hard line against President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia over the war in Ukraine.

    “There’s nothing good here,” said Andrea Schneider, an expert on international conflict resolution at Cardozo School of Law. “No matter what Biden does, he’s going to be criticized — either that we’re giving too much or we’re not working hard enough.”

    Kremlin officials had said talks on an exchange could not proceed before her trial was complete, but even with an official verdict and sentence, a deal may not happen anytime soon.

    “I think the fact that Putin has not said yes right away means that he’s looked at the U.S. offer and said, ‘Well, that’s their first offer. I can get more than that,’” said Jared Genser, a human rights lawyer who represents Americans held by foreign governments.

    The Biden administration proposed to trade Ms. Griner and Paul N. Whelan, a former Marine convicted in Moscow of espionage in 2020, for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is midway through a 25-year federal prison sentence for offering to sell arms to a Colombian rebel group that the United States then considered a terrorist organization.

    Mr. Biden finds himself squeezed from two sides.

    On one side are Ms. Griner’s supporters. Her wife, Cherelle Griner, has made public pleas for Mr. Biden to cut a deal with Mr. Putin as soon as possible. Those pleas have been echoed by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Democratic activist groups, television pundits, pro athletes and celebrities on social media.

    But there has also been criticism from Mr. Biden’s other flank — and charges that Mr. Biden has been bending to extortion by Mr. Putin, a man he has called a war criminal.

    “This is why dictatorships — like Venezuela, Iran, China, Russia — take Americans hostage, because they know they’ll get something for it,” Rep. Mike Waltz, Republican of Florida, told Newsmax last week. “They know eventually some administration will pay. And this just puts a target on the back of every American out there.”

    Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state, echoed the criticism in a Fox News interview last week, saying that to free Mr. Bout would “likely lead to more” Americans being arrested abroad.

    And former President Donald J. Trump, who is likely to run again in 2024, slammed the proposed deal in crude terms. He said Mr. Bout was “absolutely one of the worst in the world, and he’s going to be given his freedom because a potentially spoiled person goes into Russia loaded up with drugs.” (Russian officials who detained Ms. Griner at a Moscow-area airport in mid-February found less than one gram of cannabis vape oil in her bags.)

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    Biden Administration’s Bid to Cap Russia Oil Prices Faces Resistance

    WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s push to form an international buyers’ cartel to cap the price of Russian oil is facing resistance amid private sector concerns that it cannot be reliably enforced, posing a challenge for the U.S.-led effort to drain President Vladimir V. Putin’s war chest and stabilize global energy prices.

    The price cap has been a top priority of Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, who has been trying to head off another spike in global oil costs at the end of the year. The Biden administration fears that the combination of a European Union embargo on Russian oil imports and a ban on the insurance and financing of Russian oil shipments will send prices soaring by taking millions of barrels of that oil off the market.

    But the untested concept has drawn skepticism from energy experts and, in particular, the maritime insurance sector, which facilitates global oil shipments and is key to making the proposal work. Under the plan, it would be legal for them to grant insurance for oil cargo only if it was being sold at or below a certain price.

    Mike Salthouse, global claims director at The North of England P&I Association Limited, a leading global marine insurer. “If you have sophisticated state actors wanting to deceive people, it’s very easy to do.”

    He added: “We’ve said it won’t work. We’ve explained to everybody why.”

    That has not deterred Ms. Yellen and her top aides, who have been crisscrossing the globe to make their case with international counterparts, banks and insurers that an oil price cap can — and must — work at a moment of rapid inflation and the risk of recession.

    “At a time of global anxiety over high prices, a price cap on Russian oil is one of the most powerful tools we have to address inflation by preventing future spikes in energy costs,” Ms. Yellen said in July.

    The Biden administration is trying to mitigate fallout from sanctions adopted by the European Union in June, which would ban imports of Russian oil and the financing and insuring of Russian oil exports by year’s end. Britain was expected to enact a similar ban but has not yet done so.

    not solve the world’s oil supply problems. European officials, who have been skeptical, continue to say they are analyzing its viability.

    restricted natural gas flows to parts of Europe in retaliation for sanctions, would curb oil exports because of their importance to its economy.

    senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who works in the financial services industry, said of Russia’s cooperation with a price cap. “If that were the case, he wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine in the first place.”

    But proponents believe that if the European Union bans insurance transactions, an oil price cap may be the best chance to mitigate the economic fallout.

    John E. Smith, former director of the foreign assets control unit, said the key was ensuring that financial services firms and maritime insurers were not responsible for vetting every oil transaction, as well as providing guidance on complying with the sanctions.

    “The question is will enough jurisdictions agree on the details to move this forward,” said Mr. Smith, who is now co-head of Morrison & Foerster’s national security practice. “If they do, it could be a win for everyone but Russia.”

    Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting from Brussels.

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    Iranian tanker to retrieve oil cargo confiscated by U.S. this week

    The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Ice Energy transfers crude oil from the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Lana (former Pegas), off the shore of Karystos, on the Island of Evia, Greece, May 26, 2022. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

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    ATHENS, July 27 (Reuters) – An Iranian-flagged tanker anchored off the Greek port of Piraeus is expected this week to retrieve part of its cargo of oil confiscated by the United States and sail back to Iran following a Greek court ruling, government sources said on Wednesday.

    The case has strained relations between Athens and Tehran amid growing tensions between Iran and the United States.

    The removal of oil from the Lana, formerly Pegas, prompted Iranian forces to seize two Greek tankers in the Middle East Gulf which have not yet been released. read more

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    “The (Greek) Supreme Court’s ruling… is in Iran’s favour,” a Greek government official said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. The official said the ruling, which has not been made public, had come to the government’s knowledge on Tuesday.

    Another official confirmed the ruling. A government spokesperson said the government would not comment on court decisions.

    For over two months, the Iranian-flagged Lana remained under arrest off the Greek island of Evia, near the town of Karystos.

    Greek authorities approved its release earlier this month, after a judicial panel ruled in favour of an Iranian company, overturning a previous court order, and the vessel which had engine problems was tugged to Piraeus. read more

    Greek media reported that the United States challenged that decision, bringing the case before Greece’s Supreme Court.

    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said: “We are respectful that this case went through the Greek judicial process.” The person had no further comment.

    The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

    “In the past year, Iran’s hydrocarbon sales have been reinvigorated by lax enforcement. That must stop,” Mark Wallace, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told Reuters.

    “The U.S. must continue to enforce sanctions and our allies must join us in this effort,” said Wallace, who is now chief executive of advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which monitors Iran-related tanker traffic.

    Part of the ship’s Iranian oil cargo had been transferred to another ship, Ice Energy, which was hired by the United States and is also moored off Piraeus port.

    “Lana is expected to get fuel later today and test its engine so that it can start the oil transfer at the end of the week and sail off,” the first Greek official told Reuters.

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    Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Lefteris Papadimas, Jonathan Saul, Arshad Mohammed and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel

    Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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