Russian warships headed to bomb Aleppo will no longer refuel in Spain
A flotilla of Russian warships en route to the Mediterranean to take part in the Aleppo bombing campaign won’t be refueling in the Spanish port of Cueta.
Russia withdrew its request to refuel on Wednesday after outcry from NATO, politicians and military figures that Spain had granted permission for the eight-strong group of vessels, led by Russia’s lone aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, to dock in the port to refuel and take on board supplies.
Spain was already reconsidering whether to allow the refueling given international outcry over Russia’s role in the bombardment of Aleppo, an act that France and the UK have categorized as a war crime.
“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,” Spain’s foreign ministry told the BBC.
The Russian Embassy confirmed the request to refuel had been withdrawn.
Ceuta is a Spanish enclave which sits on the tip of Africa’s north coast, across the Straits of Gibraltar from mainland Spain. It is part of the EU, but its NATO status is not clear. Russian ships have been docking here for years, and since 2011, up to 60 Russian vessels have refueled in Ceuta.
NATO had warned the Russian warships could be used to target civilians in the besieged city of Aleppo and it has been monitoring the movement of the carrier battle group which departed northern Russia last week, passing through the English Channel earlier this week.
The vessels are expected to pass through the Straits of Gibraltar on Wednesday en route to the eastern Mediterranean, where alliance officials fear they will launch fighter bombers to hit northwestern Syria early in November.
The aircraft carrier, which is believed to have 15 fighter jets on board and 10 helicopters, is accompanied by a nuclear battle cruiser, two large anti-submarine warships, and other support vessels. They are expected to join 10 Russian vessels already stationed off the coast of Syria.
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.”