US enlists Britain´s help to stop ship ´carrying Russian attack helicopters´ to Syria (TELEGRAPH UK) By Ruth Sherlock, in Washington, Roland Oliphant in Moscow and Colin Freeman 06/17/12)
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The US government has enlisted Britain´s help in a bid to stop a ship
suspected of carrying Russian attack helicopters and missiles to
conflict-riven Syria, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
The MV Alaed, a Russian-operated cargo vessel, is currently thought
to be sailing through the North Sea after allegedly picking up a
consignment of munitions and MI25 helicopters - known as "flying
tanks" - from the Russian Baltic port of Kaliningrad.
Washington, which last week condemned Moscow for continuing to arm
the Syrian regime, has asked British officials to help stop the Alaed
delivering its alleged cargo by using sanctions legislation to force
its London-based insurer to withdraw its cover.
Under the terms of the current European Union arms embargo against
Syria, imposed in May last year, there is a ban on the "transfer or
export" of arms and any related "brokering" services such as
insurance. Withdrawal of a ship´s insurance cover would make it
difficult for it legally to dock elsewhere and could force it to
return the cargo to port.
The request to London from US officials comes after the US Secretary
of State, Hillary Clinton, disclosed on Tuesday that Moscow was in
the process of shipping a batch of attack helicopters to Syria.
Dismissing Russian government claims that its weapons sales to Syria
would not be used for internal repression, Mrs Clinton warned the
shipment could "quite dramatically" escalate the conflict, which has
already claimed an estimated 10,000 lives. Yesterday, the United
Nations monitoring mission said it had suspended its work because
of "intensifying" violence on either side, which was putting its
teams of unarmed observers at risk.
The helicopters Mrs Clinton was referring to are believed to be part
of a 36-strong consignment ordered by the Syrian government at the
end of the Soviet era, some of which were transferred back to Russia
recently for routine maintenance. They are understood to have been
serviced by the state-owned helicopter manufacturer, Mil, at their
premises at Factory 150 in Kaliningrad.
While the Kremlin, which has so far vetoed calls for a United Nations
arms embargo against Syria, insists that Mil is merely honouring the
terms of an existing business contract, critics point that such
helicopters have helped spearhead President Bashar al-Assad´s
attempts to suppress the uprising against him. Last week it was
reported that helicopters had repeatedly fired rockets at a hospital
in a rebel enclave outside Aleppo in northern Syria.
Shipping records show that on Thursday - the most recent date for
which data is available - the Alaed was off the north-west coast of
Denmark, apparently heading south towards the entrance to the English
Channel. It is insured by Standard P and I Club, which is managed by
Charles Taylor and Co Ltd of London, whose offshore syndicate
director, Robert Dorey, confirmed on Saturday that they were
investigating claims that the ship was carrying arms.
"We were informed on Friday evening that the ship might be carrying
weapons, in particular attack helicopters, missiles and non-specific
munitions, and we are making inquiries to establish what their side
of the story is," said Mr Dorey. "There are exclusion clauses in our
cover, and for anyone involved in improper or unlawful trade, we can
cancel cover. We are investigating whether or not to do so in this
Like most international cargo ships, the Alaed has a complex
ownership and management structure. Its registered owner is Volcano
Shipping on the island of Curacao in the Dutch Antilles, but it is
listed as part of a fleet belonging to a Russian company, FEMCO,
which was unavailable for comment last night. According to FEMCO´s
website, the ship´s commercial management and chartering is carried
out by United Nordic Shipping, a Danish company based in Copenhagen,
but yesterday, United Nordic shipping said that the management
agreement had never actually been finalised, and that FEMCO´s website
"To the best of our knowledge the vessel is managed and operated by
FEMCO in Russia," said Soeren Andersen, United Nordic Shipping´s
managing director. "We have no knowledge of or involvement in the
vessel´s current charter or trading - a fact we have also
satisfactorily accounted for to the Danish authorities."
A source close to United Nordic added: "The Danish authorities
contacted us a few days ago to ask about the ship, and said it was
related to possible shipments of weapons to Syria."
The claims about the Alaed´s cargo will fuel the growing row over
Russian involvement in supplying arms to Syria, which Moscow has long
seen as a strategic partner because of the Russian naval base in the
Syrian port city of Tartus.
Last week, The Sunday Telegraph disclosed how the Professor Katsman,
a ship belonging to a firm owned by a Russian billionaire, Vladimir
Lisin, docked in Syria with a suspected weapons cache on May 26, one
day after the massacre of more than 100 people in the Syrian village
Dr Lisin, a steel magnate who is also vice-president of the Russian
Olympic Committee, now faces calls from British MPs to have his
invitation to London 2012 withdrawn. Sources close the Games
organisers have said, however, that accredited Olympic
representatives of foreign countries enjoy an effective "diplomatic
immunity" that would be revoked only in the most serious of
On Saturday, Dr Lisin said that the accusations against him
were "groundless" and said an internal investigation he ordered at
his transport firm, Universal Cargo Logistics (UCL) had found no
evidence that the cargo was dangerous or violated international law.
"The evidence I was presented with indicates that according to the
documentation the company was not transporting arms for either side
of the Syrian conflict," Dr Lisin said in emailed comments.
"To date, I have not received a single [piece of] evidence to the
contrary. If at some point someone does bring such evidence to my
attention, I shall be grateful and will take all the possible
measures available to me."
UCL said that as part of its investigation it requested information
on the Professor Katsman´s cargo from the owner, which it named as
another Russian company. The company told UCL that the containers the
Professor Katsman delivered to Syria "was a general cargo of non-
military purpose featuring electrical equipment and repair parts
(rotor blades) in containers and wooden crates", he said.
Dr Lisin is reported to be one of Russia´s richest men and is well-
connected to the country´s political elite. Victor Olersky, a former
board member of Dr Lisin´s shipping firm, North Western Shipping
Company, is now a Russian deputy transport minister, while Dr Lisin
himself has been photographed meeting both the Russian president,
Vladimir Putin, and the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev.
Dr Lisin also described calls to bar him from the Olympic Games as
opportunistic "self promotion."
"I am against armed conflict in any region of the world, including
Syria," he said. "Sadly, there are those who try to use the tragedy
of the Syrian people for self-promotion... At the same time, I would
like to ask those who consider themselves to be reasonable and
responsible to refrain from groundless accusations that will do
nothing more than aggravate the relations between people, businesses,
"I have no doubt that the International Olympic Committee, the
National Olympic Committee of the United Kingdom, and the Organising
Committee of the 2012 Olympics will preserve the traditions of the
Olympic movement that has always been above political gambling."
Meanwhile, Russia and the West are at further loggerheads over
Moscow´s plans to press ahead with a deal to supply President Assad´s
regime with state-of-the art attack jets.
In a move that US intelligence officials fear could plunge the Syrian
conflict into even greater long-term bloodshed, the Kremlin is
pushing on with an existing 2007 contract to provide two dozen Mig-
29M2 fighter aircraft, estimated to be worth £250 million to the
Russian defence industry.
While the aircraft may not be ready for delivery for many months,
Washington fears if President Assad´s regime is still intact it could
use them to devastating effect against the country´s rebel enclaves.
They could also be used to hinder any Western plans for a no-fly
zone, which some analysts believe may eventually prove the only way
to provide Syria´s rebel movement with a safe haven.
"Delivery of the Migs will helps prop Assad up and give him some
credibility, which is not the message the US wants to see," said
Washington-based national security analyst John Pike. "The Migs would
make it more difficult to enforce a no fly zone, and would increase
the amount of time that the Syrian air force could survive, although
possibly only by a matter of a few days."
Rafif Jouejati, spokeswoman for the Free Syria Foundation, a US-based
Syrian activist group, said: "Russian arms are flooding into Syria.
If Assad gets these new and advanced Migs it will be terrible – a
She dismissed Russian claims that the aircraft were largely to
provide strategic air defences against Syria´s historic enemy,
Israel. "It is preposterous to argue that Assad needs them as a
defence against Israel with everything else that is happening right
She also claimed Mr Lisin ought to have ordered his shipping firms be
more proactive in finding out what any ships heading to Syria
"When your ship is taking a cargo to Syria – a country embroiled in
civil war – it is your duty to know what that cargo contains. You
can´t hide behind a lack of knowledge when little children are being
The Kremlin has dismissed Western criticisms of its arms policy to
Syria as hypocritical, saying that other governments are also
fuelling the conflict by arming anti-Assad guerrillas. The Daily
Telegraph disclosed yesterday that representatives of the main rebel
group, the Free Syrian Army, had held meetings with US government
officials to discuss getting them to authorise shipments of heavy
weapons, including missiles.
British MPs are calling for Rosoboronexport, the Kremlin-owned arms
export firm that has a monopoly on Russian arms exports, to be banned
from exhibiting at the trade section of next month´s Farnborough
Airshow. Last week, Rosoboronexport had a stall at the Eurosatory
2012 arms exhibition in Paris, where videos of Russian attack
helicopters were on display. Igor Sevastyanov, the company´s deputy
CEO, said: "No-one can ever accuse Russia of violating the rules of
armaments trade set by the international community.
"The contract (with Syria) was signed long ago and we supply
armaments that are self-defence rather than attack weapons."
On Monday Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton, raised the
issue of Rosoboronexport´s attendance at Farnborough with the Foreign
Secretary, William Hague, in Parliament. She said: "It is deeply
alarming that while the Russian state-owned company Rosoboronexport
continues to sell weapons to the Syrian government – despite
appalling state-sponsored atrocities in the country – it will
nevertheless be allowed to exhibit its wares on UK soil at
Farnborough International Airshow.
"The Foreign Secretary has assured me in Parliament that he will look
into the matter, but with the air show only a few weeks away, I would
urge him to act now to prevent Rosoboronexport from entering
She added: "By taking measures to ban Rosoboronexport from
Farnborough and revoke Mr Lisin´s invitation to the Olympics, the
United Kingdom can lead by example in showing that it is prepared to
take a moral stand against all of those foreign companies accused of
involvement in the sale of weapons to deadly and undemocratic
An FCO spokesman said that Mr Hague was still considering the matter,
but added: "Farnborough International Air Show is a commercial event
run by Farnborough International Ltd. The British Government plays no
part in deciding which companies are invited to the event."
Asked about the Alaed last night, a spokesman for the Foreign Office
said it was “urgently looking into any possible breaches of the EU
arms embargo on Syria.”
“We are aware of reports that a ship carrying a consignment of
refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters is heading to Syria and
that it is travelling in international waters near the UK,” the
spokesman added. “The Foreign Secretary made clear to Russian Foreign
Minister Lavrov when they met on 14 June that all defence shipments
to Syria must stop. We are working closely with international
partners to ensure that we are doing all we can to stop the Syrian
regime’s ability to slaughter civilians being reinforced through
assistance from other countries.”
Additional reporting by Bill Lowther in Washington, Peter Allen in
Paris, and Justin Stares in Brussels (© Copyright of Telegraph Media
Group Limited 2012. 06/17/12)
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