Malta refuses airspace to Russian military planes headed for Venezuela

BuzzFeed News claimed on Monday that Russia did not take the rejections well and would be retaliating with a misinformation campaign against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

One of the two Russian military planes that arrived in Venezuela last month (Image: AFP)
One of the two Russian military planes that arrived in Venezuela last month (Image: AFP)

Malta has refused to allow two Russian military aircraft flying from Syria to Venezuela to fly over Maltese airspace, according to Buzzfeed News.

The website noted that this was not the first time that Russia had flown its military aircraft from Syria to Venezuela’s capital Caracas. According to Buzzfeed Malta approved the use of its airspace last month, but said that this was the second time this month that a request was rejected. 

Between the request approved in March, and the recent denial, Russia had also filed a request for military flights from Syria to Venezuela between April 12 and May 1, Buzzfeed said.

The new request from Russia was made by the Russian Embassy in Valletta last week, a senior diplomat told Buzzfeed News. It asked for clearance to fly two military aircraft between April 16 and 19, from Syria to Caracas, and back.

The flight path of one of the two Russian military aircraft flying to Venezuela on March 23, showing it passing through the airspace of Cyprus, Greece, and Malta
The flight path of one of the two Russian military aircraft flying to Venezuela on March 23, showing it passing through the airspace of Cyprus, Greece, and Malta

Buzzfeed News reported how data from a flight tracking website shows that two Russian military planes also flew through the airspace of Greece and Cyprus from Syria en route to Venezuela on March 22 and 23.

Back then Russian military planes and personnel were spotted at the Venezuelan airport in the country's capital of Caracas amidst continued protests and political unrest in the country.

The two aircraft that reportedly requested to use Malta's airspace, a Russian air force jet, Ilyushin Il-62, and a cargo plane, An-124-100 Ruslan, are respectively planning to depart from Syrian capital Damascus, and Khmeimim, an airbase operated by Russia in Syria.

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti claimed that these flights are routine and are carrying supplies and technical advisers.

According to the Russian request made to Malta’s foreign ministry, the contents of which have been shared with BuzzFeed News, the purpose of this month’s flights was humanitarian in nature. The planes would bring food supplies and diesel generator sets, as well as engineering, technical, and medical specialists needed by Moscow’s diplomatic mission in Venezuela, Russia says in its request. It says that the planes do not carry arms, explosives, or poisonous or harmful materials.

The Kremlin is one of the main backers of Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolás Maduro, after opposition leader Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself interim president in January. Guaidó’s claim is supported by the European Union’s member states, the US, and several other governments across the world.

A senior diplomatic source told BuzzFeed News that Russia had not taken the rejections well and that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat could expect retaliation in the form of a misinformation campaign during or after next month's European Parliamentary elections.

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