Rus­sian tankers defy EU ban to smug­gle jet fuel to Syria

Tanker-track­ing data con­firms ship move­ments

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Rus­sian tankers have smug­gled jet fuel to Syria through EU waters, bol­ster­ing mil­i­tary sup­plies to a war-torn coun­try where Moscow is car­ry­ing out air strikes in sup­port of the gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to sources with knowl­edge of the mat­ter. At least two Rus­sian-flagged ships made de­liv­er­ies - which con­tra­vene EU sanc­tions - via Cyprus, an in­tel­li­gence source with a Euro­pean Union gov­ern­ment told Reuters. There was a sharp in­crease in ship­ments in Oc­to­ber, said the source who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity due to the sen­si­tiv­ity of the mat­ter. A sep­a­rate ship­ping source fa­mil­iar with the move­ments of the Rus­sian­flagged ves­sels said the ships vis­ited Cypriot and Greek ports be­fore de­liv­er­ing fuel to Syria.

The Rus­sian de­fense and trans­port min­istries did not ini­tially re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. The de­fense min­istry later said EU sanc­tions on fuel sup­plies to Syria could not be ap­plied to the Rus­sian air group in that coun­try. A spokes­woman for EU for­eign af­fairs and se­cu­rity pol­icy said the im­ple­men­ta­tion of EU re­stric­tions lay with mem­ber states. “We trust that com­pe­tent au­thor­i­ties are com­ply­ing with their obli­ga­tion to en­sure re­spect of the re­stric­tive mea­sures in place and to pur­sue any cir­cum­ven­tion at­tempts,” she added.

Greece’s for­eign min­istry re­ferred ques­tions to the ship­ping min­istry, which was not im­me­di­ately avail­able to com­ment. The Cypriot gov­ern­ment said its au­thor­i­ties had not ap­proved the dock­ing of any Rus­sian tankers car­ry­ing jet fuel bound for Syria. “We would wel­come any in­for­ma­tion that may be pro­vided to us on any ac­tiv­ity that con­tra­venes UN or EU re­stric­tive mea­sures,” the Cypriot for­eign min­istry added. Syria’s civil war, which be­gan in 2011, has be­come a theatre for com­pet­ing global pow­ers, with Rus­sia and Iran sup­port­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad, and the United States, Gulf Arab and Euro­pean pow­ers back­ing rebels who want to de­pose him.

Rus­sia changed the course of the con­flict in fa­vor of As­sad’s gov­ern­ment last year when it in­ter­vened with air strikes. Moscow says it tar­gets only Is­lamic State mil­i­tants and other ji­hadist fight­ers. EU Coun­cil Reg­u­la­tion 1323/2014, in­tro­duced two years ago, bans any sup­ply of jet fuel to Syria from the EU ter­ri­to­ries, whether or not the fuel orig­i­nated in the Euro­pean Union. Over one two-week pe­riod in Oc­to­ber, Rus­sian tankers de­liv­ered 20,000 met­ric tons of jet fuel to Syria - worth around $9 mil­lion at today’s world prices - via the Euro­pean Union, ac­cord­ing to the EU gov­ern­ment in­tel­li­gence source.

“The jet fuel ship­ments from these ves­sels have played a vi­tal role in main­tain­ing Rus­sian air strikes in the re­gion,” said the source. “This points to a sus­tained Rus­sian build-up of re­sources needed to sup­port their mil­i­tary oper­a­tion and am­bi­tions in Syria.” Some of the shipped fuel also went to the Syr­ian mil­i­tary, help­ing to “keep As­sad’s air as­sets op­er­a­tional”, the source added. The ship­ping source and a third per­son, an in­tel­li­gence con­sul­tant spe­cial­iz­ing in the Mediter­ranean area, also said the fuel was likely in­tended for Rus­sian and Syr­ian mil­i­tary use.

Pub­licly avail­able ship-track­ing data con­firms that at least two Rus­sian tankers, the Yaz and Mukha­latka, made one trip each be­tween Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber, stop­ping in Greece and Li­mas­sol in Cyprus. In Greece, the Yaz stopped at Agioi Theodoroi port but it is un­clear where the Mukha­latka stopped. From Cyprus, they sailed to­wards Syria and Le­banon. Their track­ing transpon­ders were switched off near the coasts of those coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the data.

The EU in­tel­li­gence source said the Mukha­latka went on to de­liver jet fuel to Syria, while the other two sources said the Yaz almost cer­tainly car­ried fuel to the coun­try. All the peo­ple de­clined to be named due to the sen­si­tiv­ity of the mat­ter. It was un­clear where the fuel might have orig­i­nated. Alexan­der Yaroshenko, gen­eral di­rec­tor of the owner of the Yaz and Mukha­latka ships, St Peters­burg-based Transpetrochart, de­clined to com­ment when asked by Reuters about the ship­ments. —Reuters

Rita Bar­bera, a scan­dal-tainted stal­wart of Spain’s rul­ing Peo­ple’s Party (PP) and mayor of the Mediter­ranean city of Va­len­cia for 24 years, died of a heart at­tack in Madrid on Wed­nes­day in a ho­tel near par­lia­ment. An un­mis­tak­able fig­ure in Span­ish pol­i­tics since the 1980s with her trade­mark string of pearls, red suits and heavy makeup, Bar­bera, 68, was for many a sym­bol of the cor­rup­tion in­grained into the high­est lev­els of the coun­try’s es­tab­lish­ment. On Mon­day, she ap­peared be­fore the Supreme Court un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for money laun­der­ing dur­ing her time as mayor of Va­len­cia. She said in court her cen­tre-right PP in Va­len­cia had never taken any il­le­gal fi­nanc­ing and de­nied any wrong­do­ing. Known as “the Boss” and “the may­oress of Spain” by sup­port­ers, Bar­bera was an in­te­gral part of Va­len­cian life, ap­pear­ing on the bal­cony of the town hall ev­ery March flanked by young girls in lo­cal dress for the re­gional fes­ti­val of Las Fal­las marked by pa­rades and fire­works.

For­mer mayor of Va­len­cia Rita Bar­bera

Scan­dal-tainted ‘may­oress of Spain’ dies un­der graft cloud

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