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Russian FM Lavrov and Spanish FM Borrell. Photo: Government of Spain

A knife in the back of NATO: Russian warships refuel in Spain

Three Russian warships docked to refuel in Ceuta, a Spanish port enclave in northeast Africa, after a long absence. The guided-missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov, tanker Dubna and tug SB-406 were authorised to re-fuel and re-supply by Spanish authorities.

Published: November 25, 2018, 7:01 am

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    In 2016, Russia had rescinded its right to dock ships in Ceuta after NATO allies complained that the Russian military had targeted “civilians” in Syria, a claim which Russia denied.

    Russian outlet Sputnik reported that Nile Gardiner, a British political pundit, called it “a knife in the back for the NATO alliance”, because of Spain’s decision to allow three Russian warships to dock, three days after the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Madrid.

    Similarly, Luke Coffey, a US political adviser, called Madrid’s move “the height of irresponsibility”, to allow Russia into the fold of Western nations, according to Sputnik.

    Official Spanish logs show that Russian warships docked in Ceuta 60 times between 2010 and 2016. They brought in over 10 000 servicemen, who generated some 4.5 million euros for the enclave’s African seaport.

    The Spanish media took little notice of the Anglo-American outbursts. Major daily El País announced the arrival of the Russian naval vessels in a neutral headline: “The Russian fleet returns to Ceuta three years after.”

    Thus Ceuta’s port authorities have welcomed the Russian fleet, since it has been “fruitful for the town’s commercial establishments”.

    Local media welcomed the Russian visit with even more enthusiasm, with El Pueblo de Ceuta suggesting that the arrival of the Russian navy would give an “important impetus” to the town’s economic sector, while local businesses were awaiting it “with open arms”.

    Digital daily, El Faro de Ceuta, reported on the reception ceremony for the Russian warships, which was preceded by “unexpected” welcoming cannon shots.

    Santiago Velo de Antelo, the head of Spanish Academy of Diplomacy, told Sputnik that the presence of the Russian Navy in Ceuta marked “the return to a normal situation that was disrupted in 2016”.

    He said Britain’s negative reaction was fueled by the fear of losing control over the Strait of Gibraltar which is “the world’s most important” strait.

    Spanish lawyer and economist Guillermo Rockafort denounced the UK’s “hypocritical” stance, noting that it had “usurped” Gibraltar, since Britain used the enclave freely in 2005 to repair a “damaged nuclear submarine”, without consulting with Spain.

    “Spain has sent a clear message to the United Kingdom, the United States and to the whole world that it is a sovereign nation that takes decisions meeting its own interests.

    “It bothers them that Madrid has adopted a neutral and even friendly position towards such an important country as Russia,” Rockafort added.

    In Spain, calls for cooperation with Russia are growing louder, Rocafort said. He cited the example of Colonel Pedro Baños, who was tipped in June by Spanish media as the new head of Spain’s intelligence office. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez however later ruled out his appointment.

    During Lavrov’s visit to Madrid, foreign ministers of both countries agreed to establish a joint cybersecurity group to keep the malicious spreading of misinformation from damaging relations between their countries, The Associated Press reported.

    Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said he welcomed the Russian proposal for a collaborative effort to counter fake news.

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