Russia denies ships heading for Syria
Published Friday, August 3, 2012
A Russian military source was quoted on Friday as saying Moscow was sending three naval ships and up to 360 marines to Syria, but the defense ministry said there were no plans for the vessels to dock in the war-torn country.
Three Russian news agencies quoted a source in the General Staff as saying the vessels, already in the Mediterranean, would arrive in Tartus this week or early next week with supplies for Russia's only permanent warm water port outside the former Soviet Union. Russia is a strong ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose country is Moscow's main foothold in the Middle East.
Syria bought $1 billion worth of weapons from Russia last year, or about 8 percent of total Russian arms exports.
Russia's defense ministry later issued a statement denying the warships would go to Tartus but left open the possibility they would do so if they remained at sea longer than expected.
"The military vessels' entry...to Tartus is not planned," the ministry statement said, adding that the ships would have "every right" to enter Tartus if the length of their voyage increased and they were ordered to carry out new tasks.
A Syrian official visiting Moscow told reporters separately that Damascus had reached an agreement to send crude oil to Russia in return for shipments of refined oil products.
"We will deliver our oil and receive gasoline and diesel, it will be a barter," Qadri Jamil, Syria's deputy prime minister for economic affairs, said.
He was visiting Moscow with other government and private sector officials looking for ways to alleviate the economic effects of sanctions on Syria.
The official said Syria was producing about 200,000 barrels per day and added: "We need oil, oil products. Shortages of these materials are making the situation in the country difficult."