Editor’s Note: Readers should be watchful of reports coming from Al Arabiya (regurgitated by The Hill this week) some of which have floated as unverifiable reports of military movements in the Middle East. Back in February, Al Arabiya hailed that Iran was sending 15,000 of its elite Quds forces to Syria– one of the year’s biggest fish stories. Many of these false reports also orginate from the Syrian National Council(SNC) rebels exiled in Paris. This latest report by Al Arabiya of Russian Spetsnatz anti-terror troops in Syria has already been mirrored on hundreds of websites but is being heavily denied by Moscow – and for good reason. Israel’s DEBKAfile has also cried wolf a number of times in the last 6 months about reports of foreign troops on the ground in Syria, leaving some readers skeptical and left wanting their reports to be cross-referenced by another solid outlet, or perhaps furnished with photos of UK, US, or Russian troops in Syria – maybe then these reports of Russians in Syria might have some substantial legs.

Robert Bridge
March 20, 2012

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has rejected reports claiming that Russian warships visited Syrian ports.

Lavrov said that such “fairytales” are aimed at disrupting the mission of UN-Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan. He also added that a Russian tanker had recently entered Tartus, Syria’s port city on the Mediterranean Sea, as part of an international anti-piracy mission.

“The Defense Ministry has officially announced that a Russian tanker is currently visiting Tartus to supply fuel to Russian Black Sea and Northern Fleet ships that are working in the Gulf of Aden as part of counter-piracy measures, which also involve ships of the EU and NATO countries,” he said.

According to a statement released by the Russian Defense Ministry: There are no Russian combat ships on missions off Syrian shores. The Iman auxiliary vessel (tanker) has been in the port of Tartus for the last 10 days with the task of providing supplies to the ships of the Black Sea Fleet and the North Sea Fleet that are currently protecting the navigation through the Bay of Aden. The crew of the Iman is manned by civilians with a security formation joined with them.

Lavrov stressed that the tanker is capable of defending itself in the event of an attack by sea pirates.

“Like any other civilian support vessel taking part in the counter-piracy operation, this tanker is carrying security units that will not allow pirates to seize this tanker or any other civilian vessel in the Gulf of Aden in the event of an attack,” he said.

The Russian minister was responding to inaccurate Western media reports that a Russian military unit – with an anti-terror squad from the Russian Marines aboard – had pulled into harbor in Syria.

Lavrov went on to criticize the latest wave of terrorist attacks to hit this embattled Arab country, which is experiencing a protracted confrontation between pro-government forces and an armed opposition set on ousting the Ba’athist government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“We are witnessing a string of events that clearly do not help the success of this mission, let alone the terrorist attacks that hit Aleppo and other Syrian cities a few days ago,” Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday. “It is clearly a provocation intended to thwart Kofi Annan’s efforts.”

The minister then questioned other moves and motives on the part of a variety of international players that are hindering the negotiation process.

“Decisions adopted just a few days ago, including steps by Persian Gulf Arab countries to recall all of their ambassadors from Damascus, the European Union’s new sanctions and yesterday and today’s fairytales about some Russian warships’ visits to Syrian ports are not helping this mission,” he said.

Lavrov said Russia will support a statement or a resolution that could be adopted by the UN Security Council following Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s mission in Syria if they do not contain any ultimatum.

“The UN Security Council’s appropriate reaction – be it in the form of a statement or a resolution – requires at least two conditions. The [UN] Security Council should not approve them as an ultimatum, but it ought to continue working and approve them as a foundation for Annan’s further efforts aimed at securing reconciliation between the Syrians, the government and all opposition groups,” Lavrov said.

It is also important “to publish these proposals formulated by Annan,” he added.

There will be no revision of Russia’s position on Syria, he stressed.


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