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Russian tankers reportedly defy EU ban to smuggle jet fuel to Syria via Cyprus

Russian military jets at Hmeymim air base in Syria

Russian tankers have smuggled jet fuel to Syria through Cyprus and Greece, bolstering military supplies to a war-torn country where Moscow is carrying out air strikes in support of the government, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

At least two Russian-flagged ships made deliveries – which contravene EU sanctions – via Cyprus, an intelligence source with a European Union government told Reuters. There was a sharp increase in shipments in October, said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

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.

The Russian defence and transport ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs and security policy said the implementation of EU restrictions lay with member states.

“We trust that competent authorities are complying with their obligation to ensure respect of the restrictive measures in place and to pursue any circumvention attempts,” she added.

Greece’s foreign ministry declined to comment. The Cypriot government said its authorities had not approved the docking of any Russian tankers carrying jet fuel bound for Syria. “We would welcome any information that may be provided to us on any activity that contravenes UN or EU restrictive measures,” the Cypriot foreign ministry added.

Syria’s civil war, which began in 2011, has become a theatre for competing global powers, with Russia and Iran supporting President Bashar al-Assad, and the United States, Gulf Arab and European powers backing rebels who want to depose him.
Russia changed the course of the conflict in favour of Assad’s government last year when it intervened with air strikes. Moscow says it targets only Islamic State militants and other jihadist fighters.

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.

Over one two-week period in October, Russian tankers delivered 20,000 metric tonnes of jet fuel to Syria – worth around $9 million at today’s world prices – via the European Union, according to the EU government intelligence source.

“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.”

Publicly available ship-tracking data confirms that at least two Russian tankers, the Yaz and Mukhalatka, made one trip each between September and October, stopping in Greece and Limassol.

From Cyprus, they sailed towards Syria and Lebanon. Their tracking transponders were switched off near the coasts of those countries, according to the data.

The EU intelligence source said the Mukhalatka went on to deliver jet fuel to Syria, while the other two sources said the Yaz almost certainly carried fuel to the country. All the people declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

It was unclear where the fuel might have originated.

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