Russia lashes out at Malta over refusal to refuel its warships

Russian Foreign Ministry describes the ban as an attempt to 'exert pressure on all fronts and create a certain atmosphere in the information space'

 File photo of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov
File photo of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov

Malta has “fallen victim to the West's information war,” according to a reaction by the Russian Foreign Ministry to Malta's refusal to allow Russian warships to refuel in Malta, while en route to Syria.

Late last month, Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella had told Parliament that Malta would not be allowing the warships to refuel in Malta because the country did not want to be complicit in any help offered to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

But a spokeswoman for Vella's Russian counterpart described the ban as an attempt to “exert pressure on all fronts and create a certain atmosphere in the information space.”

Maria Zakharova, on behalf of the Russian Foreign Ministry said Vella's statement “falls out of line with any diplomatic routine though he stated it many times that the decision was passed independently without any external pressure proceeding from the purposes, which our military pursue,"

"The Maltese Foreign Ministry believes that the Russian military machine is committing atrocities in Syria, especially against women and children. These are the total victims of Western propaganda," the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed.

"It is an open secret what Russia is doing in Syria. Unlike the Western coalition, we issue regular detailed reports," the statement said.

“Countries, which do not have their own perspective on the situation and an independent foreign policy, are reading this information code and are engaged in open self-censorship not because of any outside pressure but on the basis of media publications for fear that anything may happen,” Russian the ministry official is reported as saying.

The vessel in question, RFS Dubna, forms part of a Russian naval task group that includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky and two destroyers. It recently entered the Mediterranean in what the chairman of the Russian parliament's defense committee, Vladimir Shamanov, had earlier described as a “show of flag” and as part of a rotation.

But later reports have officials saying that warplanes from the Admiral Kuznetsov would be targeting rebels on the outskirts of Aleppo, where they have launched a counter offensive against the Syrian government-controlled western part of the city.

"The attacks are to hit the long-range approaches to the city," Interfax news agency quoted a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying.

A Russian Ministry of Defense source told local media that "the group's main goal is to carry out missile strikes on terrorists outside of Aleppo that are attempting to get into the city.”

An unsavoury alliance of rebel factions, including Islamist groups and al-Qaida's Fatah al-Sham Front, had launched an offensive on October 28 against government positions in western Aleppo in a bid to break a siege on the eastern side of the city. That operation involved dozens of suicide vehicle bombs and, according monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, has killed more than 70 civilians, including 25 children.

Moscow and the Syrian government have long accused US, Turkish and Gulf backed rebels of not distancing themselves from terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, thereby contributing to the breakdown of international efforts to implement a sustained ceasefire.

The deployment of the Admiral Kuznetsov is the first active combat mission for a Russian aircraft carrier since Russia intervened in Syria last September.