A global activist group has sent a message to all its Cypriot and Greek members to pressure the government in case a Russian navy flotilla believed to be on its way to Syria for a final push against anti-government rebels in Aleppo, stops in Cyprus for refuelling after Spain and Malta refused.
Avaaz, whose members use the internet and social media to bring pressure to bear when it comes to global, regional and national issues, told the Cyprus Mail on Wednesday that it had contacted Cypriot and Greek members to be ready to act.
Nato has been monitoring Russia’s eight-strong carrier battle group, which has entered the Mediterranean.
Germany-based Avaaz campaigner Rene Engel told the Cyprus Mail that given Cyprus’ close relations with Russia, it was logical to assume the flotilla would dock in Cyprus if it needed to refuel.
In February last year, during a visit to Moscow, President Nicos Anastasiades firmed up an understanding with Russia allowing its warships to dock in Limassol and Larnaca.
“We sent an email to our Cypriot members, asking them to call the president’s and the foreign minister’s office,” said Engel. “Depending on further developments, we might continue our push.”
A source at the Russian embassy in Nicosia however told the Cyprus Mail they had already been asked the refuelling question by Russian media and the indications were that the flotilla would not dock in Cyprus as it was self-sufficient. “At the moment there is no such information,” the source said.
The Russian RT website quoted a defence ministry spokesman saying: “The Russian aircraft carrier group is fully supplied with sufficient material stocks to carry out its mission in the off-shore maritime zone in autonomous mode.”
It was not known on Wednesday the exact location of the Russian fleet.
“We campaigned and put pressure on Spain so the ships would not be fuelled in Spain. Our members sent many hundreds of messages to the Spanish authorities,” said Engel. “We then turned to Malta, putting pressure on the government until they announced that the Russian ships wouldn’t be refuelled in Malta. Now we are campaigning in Greece and Cyprus. It is not unlikely they’d stop there again. Cyprus is very likely to be Russia’s port of choice.”
He said intel indicated the ships had already passed Sardegna, and could be in Cyprus as soon as Thursday.
Russia has denied that it asked Spain to let a flotilla refuel in the port of Ceuta. “There had been no requests sent from the Russian defence ministry to the Spanish authorities,” Interfax cited ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying.
However, the Spanish government said it had granted permission in September for the three Russian ships to dock in Ceuta between October 28 and November 2 in line with its long-standing practice of allowing Russian navy ships to visit its ports. The foreign ministry said it had then asked the Russian embassy in Madrid for clarification after reports the three ships would support attacks on Aleppo. The Russian embassy in Spain had confirmed that Moscow had withdrawn a request for the warships to refuel in Ceuta, the RIA news agency reported. It gave no reason for the change of heart.
The Times of Malta reported its foreign minister, George Vella, dismissing claims that the warships would stop there. However, the opposition asked in parliament whether permission for the Russian flotilla to stop in Maltese waters was originally granted, and then withdrawn. In reply, Vella said that he would not go into the issue of whether permissions had been sought. “What is being made clear is that Malta will not be party to the obscenities being committed in Aleppo,” he said.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told reporters in Brussels that London would be “extremely concerned that any Nato member should consider assisting a Russian carrier group that might end up bombing Syrian civilians. Cyprus is not a member of Nato. The Cypriot foreign ministry could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
The Russian naval group, which passed through the English Channel on Friday, is made up of Russia’s sole aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, as well as a nuclear-powered battle cruiser, two anti-submarine warships and four support vessels, likely escorted by submarines.
The naval deployment is carrying dozens of fighter bombers and helicopters and is expected to join around 10 other Russian vessels already off the Syrian coast, diplomats said.