Moscow has denied media reports that a Russian warship has arrived in Syria, while a senior member of European parliament demanded an inquiry into the allegations.
As tensions around Syria escalate, media reports circulated on Monday said a Russian warship with marines onboard had arrived off the Syrian coast. Russia, an ally of President Bashar al-Assad, denied the reports, but a senior member of the European parliament demanded an inquiry into the allegations.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday one of its tankers, Iman, had arrived off the Syrian coast for technical reasons and its civilian crew was accompanied by security guards. The ministry said the tanker was carrying fuel and food supplies for the Russian Black Sea and Northern fleets, which are engaged in anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.
Russia’s chief of the general staff, Nikolai Makarov, said on Tuesday the country had no plans to send warships to troubled Syria while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the reports were fake. "Reports that Russian warships are in Tartus are complete fairy tales," he said.
A senior member of the European parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, has called for an immediate UN inquiry into allegations by the Syrian opposition that a Russian warship was delivering weapons to Syria. He said if the reports were proven, it would make Russia an accomplice in al-Assad’s alleged crimes against humanity.
Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov responsible for international cooperation said military deployment in Syria was not in Russia’s interests.
“Russia has no units, no special forces, no troops in Syria. All this is nonsense,” he said. “It does not meet our national interests.”
The Syrian Defense Ministry also denied the reports.
“This information is false and is part of the anti-Syria campaign waged by some countries…. seeking military interference into Syria’s domestic affairs,” the SANA news agency quoted a Syrian defense official as saying.
Russia previously stated that it sold arms to Syria in accordance with existing contracts but these deliveries were not in contravention of any international agreements. Moscow also said the weapons were not being used against civilians. Russia supplies Syria with a variety of weapons including anti-ship and air-defense missiles, armored vehicles and aircraft.
Western nations and Israel have accused the Syrian authorities of violently suppressing the year-long protests taking place in the country against Assad's rule. He in turn has accused the West of supporting the protesters, who he says are al-Qaeda linked militants and army defectors.