Russian arms shipment en route to Syria, plans to dock in Tartus soon


A Russian cargo ship loaded with weapons is en route to Syria and due to arrive at a Syrian port this weekend, Al Arabiya reported. Western diplomats in New York on Friday described the report as credible.

Syria is one of Russia’s top weapons customers. The United States and European Union have suggested the U.N. Security Council should impose an arms embargo and other U.N. sanctions on Syria for its 14-month assault on a pro-democracy opposition determined to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But Russia, with the support of fellow veto power China, has prevented the council from imposing any U.N. sanctions on Syria and has refused to halt arms sales to Damascus.

A Russian cargo ship carrying a large amount of weapons plans to unload its cargo in the Syrian port of Tartus, Al Arabiya reported citing a western source. It said that the ship left a Russian port on May 6.

The ship is trying to conceal its final destination in a suspicious way, according to Al Arabiya.

One diplomat told Reuters that the vessel, which is called “Professor Katsman,” is owned by a Maltese firm, which itself is owned by a Cypriot company that is owned by Russian firm.

Diplomats said the Russian firm might have been acting on behalf of state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, though that was not clear.

“I don’t have any information on this ship, but our policy is not to comment on individual shipments, regarding contents or timing,” a spokesman for Rosoboronexport, Vyacheslav Davidenko, said in Moscow.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it did not have information that a ship was headed to Tartus with weapons and declined to comment further.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked about the Al Arabiya report at her daily briefing in Washington.

“I had not seen that report,” she told reporters. “You know how strongly we feel that no country should be delivering weapons to the Assad regime now.”

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has urged countries not to supply weapons to either side in the Syrian conflict. Annan plans to visit Damascus soon, his spokesman said on Friday.