Russian warships: Spain says refuelling request withdrawn

Russia has withdrawn a request for three warships to dock at the Spanish port of Ceuta for refuelling, following concern among Nato allies.

The Spanish foreign ministry says the stopovers have now been cancelled.

Spain had been under pressure from Nato allies not to allow the refuelling of the Russian warships bound for Syria.

Russia’s defence ministry later said no request had been sent for the main vessel, aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, to be refuelled in Ceuta.

In a statement (in Russian), the ministry said the Russian vessels had the necessary resources to carry out tasks.

The ministry added that it had considered – upon agreement with Spain – the possibility of a “business” docking of some of the ships or a maintenance ship into Ceuta’s port.

Russia’s battle group has been sailing for the past week from Russia to the Mediterranean.

‘We are concerned’

“Given the information which appeared on the possibility that these ships would participate in supporting military action in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the ministry of foreign affairs requested clarification from the embassy of the Russian Federation in Madrid,” the Spanish foreign ministry said earlier on Wednesday in a statement to the BBC.

It added that permission had been granted in September for three Russian ships to dock in Ceuta between 28 October and 2 November. It said such stops for Russian naval vessels had taken places for years in Spanish ports.

But following its request for clarification, the ministry said, the Russian embassy in Madrid said it was withdrawing its request for refuelling.

The Russian embassy has confirmed the withdrawal.

Nato had earlier expressed concern that the ships could be used to help bomb civilians in Aleppo, but said the final decision on resupply rested with Spain.

Nato’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had warned that warships could be used to target civilians in Syria.

“We are concerned and I have expressed that very clearly about the potential use of this battle group to increase Russia’s ability and to be a platform for air strikes against Syria,” he told journalists on Tuesday.

Storm in a petrol pump – Jonathan Marcus, defence correspondent, BBC News

In the end it was little more than a storm in a petrol pump.

Russia withdrew its request to refuel its warships in a Spanish port, and so Moscow and Madrid both found a diplomatic way to get themselves off a difficult hook.

But the passions aroused by Spain’s apparent willingness to refuel Russian vessels were real, especially since this time the Russian task group was on its way – as the British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon put it – “to bomb Syrian civilians in Aleppo”.

How would it look, just as Nato defence ministers met to strengthen their forces in the Baltic, in Poland and around the Black Sea, if one of their members was helping a Russian task group on its way to a conflict where many Nato governments have accused Moscow of carrying out war crimes through its indiscriminate bombing?

Led by Russia’s only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the naval group includes a nuclear-powered battle cruiser, two anti-submarine warships and four support vessels, probably escorted by submarines.

The battle group carries dozens of fighter bombers and helicopters and is expected to join about 10 other Russian vessels already off the Syrian coast.

Some 2,700 people have been killed or injured since the Russian-backed Syrian offensive started last month, according to activists.

Western leaders have said Russian and Syrian air strikes on Aleppo could amount to war crimes, an accusation rejected by Russia.

About 250,000 civilians who live in Aleppo have been trapped by the fighting. Moscow announced last week a “humanitarian pause” in attacks as part of a plan to allow civilians and fighters to leave the area.

Source: BBC

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