12:45 Nov. 23, 2016
Russia says EU ban on fuel delivery to Syria has nothing to do with its air group
Russian President Vladimir Putin spits in the face of EU as Russian ships are smuggling banned military supplies into a war zone brazenly defying an EU ban. That is how one of the British media described recent reports on Russian tankers smuggling jet fuel to Syria through EU waters.
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.
But at least two Russian-flagged ships made deliveries via Cyprus, an EU government intelligence source told Reuters. There was a sharp increase in shipments in October, the source added.
Over one two-week period in October, Russian tankers delivered 20,000 metric tonnes of jet fuel to Syria - worth around USD 9 million at today's world prices.
"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."
A separate shipping source familiar with the movements of the Russian-flagged vessels said the ships visited Cypriot and Greek ports before delivering fuel to Syria.
Reuters report was shortly followed by Russia's reaction. The Kremlin-funded media carried various statements starting from denying violation of sanctions and ending with denouncing the sanctions as illegal.
Russian tankers could not have violated EU sanctions against Syria as the fuel deliveries were meant for the Russian Aerospace Forces, not the Syrian army, Russia's Sputnik said on Wednesday quoting an unnamed diplomatic source in Athens.
"Firstly, all sanctions adopted bypassing the UN Security Council are illegal … Secondly, even if Russian tankers were delivering fuel, the supplies were meant for the Russian Aerospace Forces, that is why the embargo and the sanctions could not be violated. Nobody can ban Russia from supplying its troops," the source told Russian media.
However, the EU source specified that some of the shipped fuel also went to the Syrian military, helping to "keep Assad's air assets operational."
The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman commented on Reuters report saying that restrictions inside the European Union on supplies of fuel to Syria have nothing to do with the air group of the Russian Aerospace Forces in that country.
"Intrigues, restrictions and sanctions on fuel supplies to the Syrian Arab Republic in effect inside the European Union, don't concern the air group of the Russian Aerospace Forces to put it mildly," Igor Konashenkov was quoted by the Russian news agency TASS.
Publicly available ship-tracking data confirms that at least two Russian tankers made one trip each between September and October.
The EU government intelligence source said Russia was also using ships flying the flags of other countries to carry jet fuel to Syria.