Thawing The Cold War: Russia Found To Be Supplying Syria With Weapons, US Not Amused

Remember the cold war: evil Empire, 5 year plans, Lada cars, etc? It may very well be back, this time over the simple matter of a few million barrels of crude per day, after Russia was found to be quietly supplying an embargoed Syria with ammunition, in violation of a weapons embargo. Reuters reports: "A Russian-operated ship carrying a cargo of ammunition has reached conflict-torn Syria after being temporarily halted during a refuelling stop in Cyprus, sources in Russia and Cyprus said on Friday. A source in Cyprus, where the ship made an unscheduled stop for refuelling late on Tuesday, said the ship had given written assurances to authorities its destination would not be Syria but Turkey. It was allowed to sail a day later, whereupon it dropped off conventional tracking systems, switched course and reached Syria on Thursday. "It had bullets. There were four containers on board," a Cypriot official told Reuters." And here the plot thickens: we now have some war mongering deepthroat somewhere in Leningrad, pardon, St. Petersburg: "The ship was carrying a dangerous cargo," the source at St. Petersburg-based Westberg Ltd. said by telephone on condition of anonymity. "It reached Syria on Jan. 11th." Needless to say, the US is not very happy that Russia is doing precisely what it warned a few months ago it would do: namely protect its sphere of influence especially in light of the ever-encroaching NATO aspirations (yes, provocations go both ways as Ron Paul has long been warning): "The United States said on Friday it had raised concerns with Moscow over a Russian-operated ship that has arrived in Syria and which sources said contained a cargo of bullets. "With regard to the ship we have raised our concerns about this both with Russia and with Cyprus, which was the last port of call for the ship, and we are continuing to seek clarification as to what went down here," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said." Looks like the escalation in the Straits of Hormuz is about to shift to the backburner as we finally go back to where the real tension is and always has been: between West and East.

More from Reuters:

Russia has long been a major arms supplier to Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has been trying to crush a 10-month-old wave of unrest by lethal armed force, raising an international outcry and triggering Western and Arab sanctions against Damascus that Moscow has refused to join.

 

In Russia, a source at the vessel's St. Petersburg-based firm said the ship Chariot had reached Syria, but declined to comment on reports the ship was carrying cargo from Russia's state weapons exporter Rosoboronexport.

 

The Chariot sailed from St. Petersburg on Dec. 9.

 

Rosoboronexport spokesman Vyacheslav Davidenko said on Friday the arms exporter would neither confirm nor deny the report. "We do not comment on where our deliveries go, when they leave port or how."

 

A Turkish foreign ministry official on Friday confirmed the ship had reached Syria.

 

"As of 10:15 a.m. (0815 GMT) yesterday the Turkish navy checked and confirmed that the ship in question was docked at the Syrian port of Tartus," ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said.

 

Russia has voiced strong opposition to arms embargoes and has repeatedly promised to uphold arms contracts with Damascus, one of its top weapons customers, despite increasing international pressure.

 

Cyprus, an EU member with traditionally close ties to Russia, has maintained it was obliged to allow the vessel to go.

 

"Since it had changed destination, and (if) we would not have allowed it to go, the company could cite illegal detention of a ship," the Cypriot official said.

 

The island has bitter experience in dealing with confiscated arms destined from one sanction-hit country to another.

 

An unnamed military source was quoted as saying in December that Russia had delivered anti-ship Yakhont missiles to Syria.

 

Syria accounted for 7 percent of Russia's total of $10 billion in arms deliveries abroad in 2010, according to the Russian defence think tank CAST.

Why Syria?

The European Union said on Friday it was aware of the case and national authorities were responsible for making sure an EU arms embargo is upheld.

 

"We are instrumental in putting these measures in place but it's up to the national authorities to make sure they are implemented and as far as I'm aware the authorities in this case are confident that the embargo has not been broken," said Michael Mann, spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs.

 

The Westberg official said the company had done nothing wrong as no Russian law prevented the delivery from being made at Syria's Tartus port, where Russia maintains a naval base.

 

"The ship went to Syria as there was nothing illegal in reaching its originally intended destination," he said.

 

In October, Russia and China vetoed a western European-led resolution on Syria that threatened sanctions for the bloodshed the U.N. says has killed 5,000 people, Russia tabled a new draft resolution last month.

And should the age old tensions between Russia and the US flare up again, take a wild guess on whose side China will be. The only question is the European wildcard which for now relies so very much on Fed bailouts. Yet one wonders: what happens when Russia shuts down the gas?