George Vella: Russian ships will not refuel in Malta

Foreign affairs minister says that the Malta will play no part in the atrocities committed by Russia in Syria

Foreign affairs minister George Vella
Foreign affairs minister George Vella

Foreign affairs minister George Vella has said that Malta will not allow Russian warships to refuel in Malta on their way to Syria. He said that Malta did not want to be complicit in any help offered to Syrian dictator Bassar al-Assad.

George Vella was speaking in Parliament during a debate on the budgetary allocation for the ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He highlighted a number of threats facing the European Union, which he said the government will be trying to tackle during the upcoming Presidency of the European Council.  He said that the EU must engage with its citizens on issues such as the effect of Brexit, the rise of a number of far-right parties as well as challenges posed by immigration and religious fundamentalism.

Vella explained how it was Malta’s policy to strengthen relations with its Southern neighbours as well as those in the East. He said that the Malta was determined to use Malta’s presidency to increase dialogue between the European Union and countries south of Malta. He said that the ministry was currently working on a conference that will bring together EU foreign ministers and representatives from a number of Arab states.

On Brexit, Vella said that Malta intended to be ‘honest brokers’ between Britain and the European Union especially given the fact that Britain’s exit will have a number of consequences for both Britain and the EU

Vella also said that the country is receiving a great deal of investment due to the opportunities, competency and stability of the country. He said that many countries such the United States, China and Qatar had invested in Malta and this was because they had heard that there were many opportunities for investment in Malta.

Vella said this investment was a part of the hard work being done abroad through networking and added that was also true of the tourism industry and the education industry. The minister discussed a number of conferences that he has represented Malta in, together with foreign partners. These conferences he said aimed to determine ways of tackling problems such as stability in the Mediterranean, the problem of extremism, climate change among others.

He said the ministry was actively preparing for Malta’s presidency and said that he had received positive feedback from Europe regarding the state of these preparations. The ministry, he said, was increasing the staff numbers in Embassy’s as well as offering the necessary training.

Nationalist MP Tonio Fenech said that he was surprised that there was no mention of the Foreign Affairs ministry in last week’s budget, especially given the current international climate. He criticised the government for not saying anything about what the ministry would be doing over the coming year as well as what had been done over the last. He said that he was disappointed that the government had given no importance to the sector, one which he said required a lot more resources in order to be relevant.

Fenech said that it was noticeable that there will be very little new initiatives that the ministry will be undertaken over the next year. He said that the budgets for allowances and travel expenses had significantly increased however it was not clear what the initiatives that these allowances would be spent on were.

Speaking about reports that Malta had denied the Russian navy authorisation to refuel in Malta, Fenech asked minister to clarify Malta’s position. He said that despite the minister saying that Malta would not be allowing the Russian fleet to enter Malta, there were reports that the government had initially given the go-ahead for this to take place.

MP Charlo Bonnici said that the this year was an ‘annus horribilis’ for the country’s name abroad, adding that he was sure that it was very difficult for the foreign affairs minister to constantly have to explain to foreign delegations, what the situation was with respect a number of scandals including the Panama scandal.

Bonnici also questioned why €300,000 was allocated to the ministry for the country’s Presidency of the European Council when this allocation would have made more sense last year and asked whether ministry employees were receiving any training to better prepare them for the presidency.