* Cargo ship carrying ammunition, Cypriot official says
* Russia is one of Syria's last remaining allies
* Ship had docked in Cyprus to refuel during storm
By Thomas Grove and Michele Kambas
MOSCOW/NICOSIA, Jan 13 A Russian-operated
ship carrying a cargo of ammunition has reached conflict-torn
Syria after being temporarily halted during a refuelling stop in
Cyprus, sources in Russia and Cyprus said on Friday.
A source in Cyprus, where the ship made an unscheduled stop
for refuelling late on Tuesday, said the ship had given written
assurances to authorities its destination would not be Syria but
It was allowed to sail a day later, whereupon it dropped off
conventional tracking systems, switched course and reached Syria
"It had bullets. There were four containers on board," a
Cypriot official told Reuters.
Russia has long been a major arms supplier to Syria, where
President Bashar al-Assad has been trying to crush a
10-month-old wave of unrest by lethal armed force, raising an
international outcry and triggering Western and Arab sanctions
against Damascus that Moscow has refused to join.
In Russia, a source at the vessel's St. Petersburg-based
firm said the ship Chariot had reached Syria, but declined to
comment on reports the ship was carrying cargo from Russia's
state weapons exporter Rosoboronexport.
The Chariot sailed from St. Petersburg on Dec. 9.
"The ship was carrying a dangerous cargo," the source at St.
Petersburg-based Westberg Ltd. said by telephone on condition of
anonymity. "It reached Syria on Jan. 11th."
Rosoboronexport spokesman Vyacheslav Davidenko said on
Friday the arms exporter would neither confirm nor deny the
report. "We do not comment on where our deliveries go, when they
leave port or how."
A Turkish foreign ministry official on Friday confirmed the
ship had reached Syria.
"As of 10:15 a.m. (0815 GMT) yesterday the Turkish navy
checked and confirmed that the ship in question was docked at
the Syrian port of Tartus," ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said.
Russia has voiced strong opposition to arms embargoes and
has repeatedly promised to uphold arms contracts with Damascus,
one of its top weapons customers, despite increasing
Cyprus, an EU member with traditionally close ties to
Russia, has maintained it was obliged to allow the vessel to go.
"Since it had changed destination, and (if) we would not
have allowed it to go, the company could cite illegal detention
of a ship," the Cypriot official said.
The island has bitter experience in dealing with confiscated
arms destined from one sanction-hit country to another.
Last July, confiscated munitions destined for Syria from
Iran exploded, destroying Cyprus's largest power station in its
worst peace-time disaster and pushing it to the brink of seeking
an EU bailout. Locked out of international capital markets, it
recently clinched a 2.5 billion euro ($3.2 bln)loan from Russia.
In November, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called full
weapons embargoes against Syria "dishonest", suggesting that in
practice they cut off military supplies to the government while
allowing opposition forces to attain arms from abroad at will.
An unnamed military source was quoted as saying in December
that Russia had delivered anti-ship Yakhont missiles to Syria.
Syria accounted for 7 percent of Russia's total of $10
billion in arms deliveries abroad in 2010, according to the
Russian defence think tank CAST.
RUSSIA'S NAVAL BASE
The European Union said on Friday it was aware of the case
and national authorities were responsible for making sure an EU
arms embargo is upheld.
"We are instrumental in putting these measures in place but
it's up to the national authorities to make sure they are
implemented and as far as I'm aware the authorities in this case
are confident that the embargo has not been broken," said
Michael Mann, spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the EU's high
representative for foreign affairs.
The Westberg official said the company had done nothing
wrong as no Russian law prevented the delivery from being made
at Syria's Tartus port, where Russia maintains a naval base.
"The ship went to Syria as there was nothing illegal in
reaching its originally intended destination," he said.
In October, Russia and China vetoed a western
European-led resolution on Syria that threatened sanctions for
the bloodshed the U.N. says has killed 5,000 people, Russia
tabled a new draft resolution last month.
The move briefly raised Western hopes of Security Council
action, but Western diplomats have complained that Moscow has
not seemed enthusiastic about pursuing negotiations on the text,
raising suggestions Russia may be helping Assad play for time.
A senior Russian diplomat blamed Western nations in the
Security Council for the lack of progress on the draft, saying
they had suggested changes Moscow disagreed with.
"Unfortunately the Western approach differs from ours and
judging by the contents of the amendments which were presented,
factually put forth a goal of regime change of B. Assad in
Damascus," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told
He said, however, Russia was "ready for dialogue ... with
the aim of coming to a mutually acceptable text" and
consultations would take place this week.
($1 = 0.7895 euros)
(Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Nicosia, Luke Baker
in Brussels and Simon Cameron-Moore in Istanbul; Editing by