Spain under fire for letting Russia's warships refuel
Spain was facing international anger last night as it apparently prepared to refuel a flotilla of Russian warships which are due to step up strikes against targets in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Politicians and military figures condemned the support from a Nato member, while the head of the alliance indicated Madrid should rethink the pit stop.
Warships from an eight-strong group led by the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov will take on fuel and supplies at the Spanish port of Ceuta after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar this morning, Spanish newspapers reported.
Nato officials expect the flotilla to sail onwards to the eastern Mediterranean and escalate air strikes on east Aleppo, which is held by rebels against the Syrian regime.
Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary general, said the carrier group, which passed through the English Channel last week, could be used to bomb civilians in the city.
He said: "It's for each nation to decide whether these ships can get supplies and be fuelled in different harbours along the route towards the eastern Mediterranean.
"At the same time we are concerned, and I have expressed that very clearly, about the potential use of this battle group to increase Russia's ability and to be a platform for air strikes against Syria."
Spain regularly refuels Russian warships at the north African port, which it says is not covered by Nato treaties.
At least 60 Russian military craft have made technical stops at the enclave since April 2010, when the naval base was opened up to serve ships from other nations.
Gerald Howarth MP, a former British defence minister, said it would be "wholly inappropriate" for a Nato member to refuel the vessels.
Lord West, a former head of the British Royal Navy, said: "There are sanctions against Russia and it's an extraordinary thing for a Nato ally to do."
Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister, said on Twitter: "Spain signed EU statement on Russian war crimes in Aleppo last week; today helps refuel fleet on way to commit more atrocities. Seriously?"
Naval sources said the Kuznetsov itself would not dock in Ceuta, but its tanker and escorts could.
Spain's foreign ministry said requests from the Russian navy were considered on a "case-by-case basis".
A spokesman said: "Russian navy vessels have been making calls in Spanish ports for years."
But in an indication that Madrid was feeling the increased diplomatic pressure, the Spanish government said it was reviewing the Russian request.
Russia's military visits are estimated to bring in more than €300,000 a time to the city.
Lt Gen Evgenny Buzhinsky, who oversaw relations with Nato as a former senior official in Russia's ministry of defence, said the stop in Spain was entirely routine.
Meanwhile, the RAF last night scrambled Typhoon jets to escort two Russian Bear bombers off the coast of Scotland. (© Daily Telegraph, London)