Politicians, NATO Officials Furious As Spain Plans To Refuel Russian Battle Group
Spain is facing international criticism as it reportedly prepares to refuel a flotilla of Russian warships en route to bolstering the bombing campaign against the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. El País reported that the Spanish ministry of foreign affairs was reviewing the permit issued to the Russian flotilla to stop at Ceuta. Politicians and military figures condemned the support from a NATO member as “scandalous,” and “wholly inappropriate,” while the head of the alliance indicated Madrid should rethink the pit stop.
As The Guardian reports, warships led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov are expected to take on fuel and supplies at the Spanish port of Ceuta after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar on Wednesday morning.
Spanish media reported that two Spanish vessels, the frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón and logistical ship Cantabria, were shadowing the warships as they passed through international waters, and that the Admiral Kuznetsov, along with other Russian vessels and submarines, would dock at Ceuta to restock after 10 days at sea.
Late on Tuesday night, El País reported that the Spanish ministry of foreign affairs was reviewing the permit issued to the Russian flotilla to stop at Ceuta.
Last week British Royal Navy vessels monitored the Russian warships as they moved through the English Channel. The vessels were shadowed by the navy as they passed through the Dover Strait .
The enclave of Ceuta sits on the tip of Africa’s north coast, across the Straits of Gibraltar from mainland Spain, and bordering Morocco, which also lays claim to the territory. Although Ceuta is part of the EU, its Nato status is unclear, and since 2011 at least 60 Russian warships have docked there.
Nato said the prospect of Russia’s only aircraft carrier heading to the region does not “inspire confidence” that Moscow is seeking a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
The naval group is made up of Russia’s only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, as well as a nuclear-powered battle cruiser, two anti-submarine warships and four support vessels, likely escorted by submarines, Nato officials said.
The naval deployment, a rare sight since the end of the Soviet Union, is carrying dozens of fighter bombers and helicopters and is expected to join around 10 other Russian vessels already off the Syrian coast, diplomats said.
But, as The Telegraph reports, Spain is facing anger and criticism from all asunder at their decision to allow the refueling to occur…
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg warned on Tuesday that Russian warships heading for Syria could be used to target civilians.
“We are concerned and have expressed very clearly by the potential use of that battle group to increase air strikes on civilians in Aleppo,” Stoltenberg said, adding that it was “up to each nation to decide whether these vessels may obtain supplies and refuel at different ports along the route to the eastern Mediterranean”.
“The battle group may be used to increase Russia’s ability to take part in combat operations over Syria and to conduct even more air strikes against Aleppo,”
Guy Verhofstadt, former prime minister of Belgium and now the EU’s representative on Brexit talks with the UK, called Spain’s decision to allow the refuelling “scandalous”.
— Guy Verhofstadt (@GuyVerhofstadt) October 25, 2016
Sir Gerald Howarth MP, a former Defence Minister, said it would be “wholly inappropriate” for a Nato member to refuel the Russian vessels.
“Spain is a member of Nato and Nato is already facing challenges from Russia, not least in the Baltics.
“The Russians stand accused of indiscriminate bombing in Aleppo and Syria and it would be inappropriate to render them military assistance.”
Former Royal Navy chief Lord West told the newspaper:
“There are sanctions against Russia and it’s an extraordinary thing for a Nato ally to do.”
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Spain’s Foreign Ministry told the Telegraph requests from the Russian navy were considered on a “case by case basis, depending on the characteristics of the ship concerned”. A spokesman said: “Russian navy vessels have been making calls in Spanish ports for years”. But in an indication Madrid was feeling increased diplomatic pressure not to help Moscow, the Spanish government said it was reviewing the Russian request. The spokesman said:
“The latest requested dockings are being revised at the current time in light of information we are receiving from our allies and from the Russian authorities.”
Russia’s military visits are estimated each to bring in more than $400,000 to the city through a combination of mooring fees, fuel and supplies, and the money spent by sailors during their time onshore.
“As long as the Spanish government hasn’t banned it, it is a commercial matter like any other vessel stopping to take on supplies, even if it concerns military ships,”