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The announcement follows vows by Russian officials to keep trying to deliver the weapons to President Bashar al-Assad’s govt despite calls on Moscow to join an arms embargo against its last Middle East ally. The Russian foreign ministry has confirmed that the Alaed was planning to supply three repaired attack helicopters and an air defence system to Syria when it was exposed by the US State Department last month.The 9,000-tonne private cargo was forced to turn back when its British insurer ended up pulling coverage. Russia argues it must return the helicopters to Syria under a binding commercial contract signed three years before the current bloody conflict between regime forces and the armed opposition began.Some officials suggested the parts may be taken to Syria by air. More recent indications said Russia preferred to try the sea route a second time.
The Alaed’s departure from its port comes as Russia sends a flotilla to the Mediterranean to conduct exercises that Moscow has said are not linked to the fighting tearing apart Syria since March 2011.But Moscow remains bitterly opposed to any attempt to oust Assad from power and has threatened to veto a new Western-backed resolution that could impose economic sanctions on Damascus if it fails to quickly commit to peace.The Rosoboronexport statement angrily dismissed Moscow reports saying the navy vessels now sailing for Syria’s Russian-leased port at Tartus were carrying any military technology for Assad.The agency called the reports “conjectures... that could do serious harm to Russia’s military and technological cooperation with other nations.”But a Russian Baltic Fleet source said two of the destroyer escorts that left port on Thursday - one called Yaroslav Mudry (Yaroslav the Wise) and the other Nestrashimy (The Intrepid) - could provide protection for the Alaed as it sails.
“They could accompany the Alaed to its destination point - in other words, to one of the ports in Syria. That same Tartus port, for example,” the unnamed Russian navy official told Interfax.The Norway-based BarentsObserver.com website that broke news of the ship’s sailing said four large Russian navy vessels were moving in the same direction just 50 nautical miles (93 kilometres) north of the Alaed.The ship’s owner meanwhile said it had chartered out the Alaed to a subcontractor whom it refused to name and denied being asked to make the shipment by the Russian state.“No government, including the Russian Federation, placed any pressure on us,” Femco said in a statement.“We chartered out the ship through a cargo broker who has been working on the marine cargo shipping market for a long time. This is common practice in our business.”
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