Is Britain secretly sabotaging Russian arms shipments to Syria?
This week a Russian cargo ship allegedly carrying weapons for the Syrian government was stopped off the coast of Scotland. Officially the boat was turned round for insurance infractions but the question remains - did the UK government intervene?
Russia is perhaps the last of President Assad’s international friends as news of civilian massacres by government troops continues to emerge. But Britain has pledged support to the Syrian rebels and has recalled diplomats from the country.
British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said the official UK position is that Assad’s troops are largely to blame for the violence:
“The Syrian regime bears the primary responsibility for ending the violence and I condemn in the strongest terms its absolute failure to do so,” he wrote on the Foreign Office website.
So when the cargo ship was stopped in British waters, questions were raised as to how far the UK government was involved.
But did The Standard Club come under pressure from the UK government to do so? Diplomatically, Britain would not risk a full frontal confrontation with the Russians so was this a covert government operation or just an accounting error?
Hague was asked about the ship in Parliament but hedged round the issue:
"We've had discussions with Russia about that specifically and I'm pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has now turned back apparently towards Russia," he told MPs.
Technically insurance was withdrawn by The Standard Club, a private insurance association, owned by its shipowner members.
They said cover was withdrawn because the owners of the ship had "broken internal rules" of the club rather than on the instructions of the UK government.
Then the question remains - were UK intelligence operatives aware of the Russian vessel? According to MSNBC, intelligence agencies were indeed monitoring the ship since US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton denounced such shipments last week.
But the UK’s Ministry of Defence official position is that they were not shadowing the boat.
Russian arms shipments to Syria have not been outlawed by the United Nations so it is only under European legislation that a cargo boat could be stopped. The EU law also prohibits any EU country - such as Britain - from providing insurance for such shipments.
Could Britain have used this law to pressure a private club into pushing government policies? Hague certainly hasn’t denied it despite the club’s assurances that it was in control.
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