(Independent) Russian carriers were expected to take on fuel at the Spanish port of Ceuta.
A naval fleet headed by the Admiral Kuznetzov aircraft carrier, which passed through the English Channel last week, was expected to dock this morning in the North African enclave of Ceuta to take on supplies.
Nato, the British government and EU politicians voiced their shock at the move just days after Spain signed a European Council statement saying it was “appalled” at the escalating violence in Aleppo and calling on the Syrian government and its Russian allies to stop its “excessive and disproportionate” attacks on civilian areas.
The Russian ships are on their way to the eastern Mediterranean to boost Vladimir Putin’s campaign in support of Bashar al-Assad, loaded with fighter jets, reconnaissance and combat helicopters and cruise missiles.
Asked about Spain’s role in supplying the fleet, Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato Secretary-General, said he was “concerned”.
“I have expressed that very clearly about potential use of this battle group to increase Russia’s ability and to be a platform for airstrikes against Syria,” he added.
“I repeat those concerns today and I believe that all Nato allies are aware that this battle group can be used to conduct airstrikes against Aleppo and Syria.”
Guy Verhofstadt, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament, called Spain’s decision “scandalous”.
He wrote on Twitter: “Spain signed EU statement on Russian war crimes in Aleppo last week – today [Tuesday] helps refuel fleet on way to commit more atrocities. Seriously?”
The UK said that although access to Spanish ports was a matter for local authorities, concerns had been raised.
“Her Majesty’s government has previously expressed concerns to the Spanish government about its hospitality to the Russian navy when we have concerns about Russia’s military activity,” a British Government spokesperson said.
Spain, a Nato member, regularly allows Russian war ships to stop in its enclave of Ceuta, which borders Morocco at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea.
A spokesperson for the foreign ministry told El Pais permission was granted on a case-by-case basis depending on the ship in question and possibly security risks.
“We are looking at the latest [supply] stops requested based on information requested by Russian authorities,” he added.
Intense international media coverage has followed the fleet’s progress from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, with Royal Navy ships tracking it through the Channel.
Keir Giles, an expert on Russian security issues, told The Independent that bolstering the country’s firepower in the Syrian conflict may not be the deployment’s only objective.
“The biggest thing that worries me is that while there is all of this intense media focus not just in the UK but in Europe on this one action in one place, what are they [Russia] doing somewhere else?” he asked.
“They have achieved complete media and public opinion focus on one bright, shiny object that is being held up to potentially distract from more important things happening elsewhere.”
The deployment includes the Admiral Kuznetsov, Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) battlecruiser, the Vice Admiral Kulakov destroyer, Severomorsk destroyers and several supply vessels.