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Bulgaria barring Syria-bound flights irks Russia

Bulgaria denied a Russian request to use its airspace for supply flights to Syria due to serious concerns about the cargo on the planes

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Russia on Tuesday lashed out at Bulgaria over its refusal to allow Russian cargo planes bound for Syria to fly over its territory, saying the move has cast doubts on the nation's independence.

The angry statement comes amid signs of a Russian military build-up in Syria that has raised U.S. concerns. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov alleged that Bulgaria and Greece are facing pressure from Washington.

Bulgaria has denied a Russian request to use its airspace for supply flights to Syria due to serious concerns about the cargo on the planes, its foreign ministry's spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

“The Bulgarian foreign ministry has refused flights over Bulgaria of Russian military transport planes en route to Syria,” the spokeswoman told Reuters. She said the decision was taken in the past few days.

“We have enough information that makes us have serious doubts about the cargo of the planes, which is the reason for the refusal,” she added.

The Russian foreign ministry declined immediate comment.

Earlier, the U.S. has asked Greece to deny Russia the use of its airspace for supply flights to Syria, a Greek official said on Monday, after Washington told Moscow it was deeply concerned by reports of a Russian military buildup in Syria.

However a Greek government spokesman said on Tuesday, that Russia plans to use an air route to the east of Greece to transport aid into Syria, meaning the use of Greek airspace for such flights is no longer an issue.

The United States had asked Greece to deny Russia the use of Greek air space for the flights, a spokesman for the foreign ministry in Athens said on Monday.

Russian newswire RIA Novosti earlier said Greece had refused the U.S. request, adding that Russia was seeking permission to run the flights up to September 24.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would not give any official reaction until there was a decision from Athens.

Russia, which has a naval maintenance facility in the Syrian port of Tartous, has sent regular flights to Latakia, which it has also used to bring home Russian nationals who want to leave.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Saturday that if reports of the build-up were accurate, that could further escalate the war and risk confrontation with the U.S.-led alliance that is bombing ISIS in Syria.

Read more - Russia: We never ‘concealed’ giving arms to Syria

Lavrov told Kerry it was premature to talk about Russia's participation in military operations in Syria, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman told RIA Novosti on Monday.

Lavrov confirmed Russia had always provided supplies of military equipment to Syria, saying Moscow "has never concealed that it delivers military equipment to official Syrian authorities with the aim of combating terrorism."

Russia has been a vital ally of President Bashar al-Assad throughout the war that has fractured Syria into a patchwork of areas controlled by rival armed groups, including ISIS, leaving the government in control of much of the west.

Foreign states are already deeply involved in the war that has killed a quarter of a million people. While Russia and Iran have backed Assad, rebel groups seeking to oust him have received support from governments including the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The Syrian army and allied rebels have lost significant amounts of territory to insurgents this year. Assad said in July the Syrian army faced a manpower problem.

(With Agencies)