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Terrorism & Security

Russian effort to send helicopters to Syria hits snag

A British insurer revoked coverage from a Russian ship that was delivering helicopters to Syria. Without insurance, ships cannot enter port.

By Staff writer / June 19, 2012



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Middle East Editor

Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog. 

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The Russian helicopters bound for Syria – and at the center of a US-Russia diplomatic dispute – might not make it to Syria after all.

Standard Club, a British ship insurer, terminated insurance coverage of the Russian ship purported to be carrying arms after the company heard allegations about the cargo and destination, according to Russian news outlet RIA Novosti. The Russian ship is believed to be carrying refitted combat helicopters and antiship missiles to Tartous, Syria, where Russia has a naval base. Without insurance, however, ships cannot enter port.

The company told RIA Novosti that the British government did not influence its decision, but The Telegraph reports that British security officials told the Standard Club that providing insurance for the ship was likely a breach of European Union sanctions on Syria.

Russia has denied that the equipment could be used against Syrian civilians, insisting the materiel is for defensive purposes only. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said that the helicopters were supplied during the Soviet-era and were merely being returned to Syria under an already existing contract, according to RIA Novosti.

Russia has been the subject of intense international criticism for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and for blocking any international efforts to take stronger action.

Some Syria observers see the shipment as undermining Russia's insistence that it opposes intervention in the conflict. The Telegraph's Middle East correspondent, Richard Spencer, writes:

"Russian arguments against direct involvement could now be strongly questioned by the British and Americans: 'Who is intervening in the crisis here? Who is pouring fuel on the flames? If you are providing attack helicopters to the Syrians how can you possibly say you are not intervening in the crisis?'"

Mr. Spencer speculated that this is likely to be followed with a stepping up of Western support for the rebels, perhaps through arms supplies.

Russia was also preparing to send military personnel and ships to its Tartous base, purportedly to secure it and to evacuate Russian nationals in case the conflict made it necessary, according to some reports. The US is reluctant to criticize the move because it often takes similar steps during international crises to protect its own defenses, reports The Wall Street Journal.

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