After more than two and a half years Russia continues its illegal occupation of Crimea and its war in eastern Ukraine. As part of its unconditional support for Syrian dictator Basher al-Assad, it is indiscriminately bombing civilians in Aleppo—an action described by some as war crimes. And yet, some European countries continue to provide Russia with military support.
Most notable among these is Spain. This member of both NATO and the EU has opened its ports to the Russian Navy. At least 25 Russian Navy vessels have refueled and resupplied at Spanish ports since Moscow invaded and annexed Crimea in March 2014. The most recent visit occurred on Oct. 16, when two Russian corvettes (Zeleny Dol and Serpukhov) and one tug (SB-36) resupplied in Ceuta, Spain.
This behavior is unbecoming of a NATO ally in the 21st-century. It should not stand.
It is time for NATO leaders to apply pressure on Spain to end its military assistance to Russia. It has worked in the past. In 2014, public outcry forced France to cancel contracts to sell Russia two amphibious-class warships.
Moscow has been using Spain’s port facilities regularly since 2011. Over the ensuing five years, at least 62 ships of the Russian Navy—including destroyers, frigates, spy ships, amphibious assault ships, and even an attack submarine—have docked there.
The timing of some of those visits was rather curious. In April 2014, for example, the same week the EU announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, Spain hosted the Russian destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov and two Russian navy tankers, the Dubna and the Sergey Osipov— effectively making a mockery of the sanctions.
Recent visits send even more disturbing signals.
Four of the last five Russian ships to visit Spain—the frigates Yaroslav Mudry and Ladny, and the corvettes Zeleny Dol and Serpukhov—participated in military operations to prop up Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad within in the last year.
Other recent visitors to Spain such as the Russian frigate Ladny, the corvettes Zeleny Dol and Serpukhov, and the tug SB-36 actually form part of the Russia’s occupation force in Crimea.
It is extraordinary that any country in Europe, much less one that is an EU and NATO member, would think it’s acceptable to provide logistical support to military forces involved in an illegal occupation or questionable support to Assad.
Russia’s main naval base in the Mediterranean Sea is currently located at Tartus, Syria. As the security situation in Syria worsens, Moscow is keeping an eye open for alternatives. Even though Europe and NATO have spent the last 30 months confronting Russian aggression through a series of economic sanctions and modest military deployments, Spain is not alone in providing succor to the Russian Navy.
Since Russia seized Crimea, the Russian warship Vice Admiral Kulakov visited Malta in July 2014 and the Yaroslav Mudry visited in February 2015. The Zeleny Dol, Serpukhov and SB-36 also stopped in Malta before their Spanish visit this month. Although Malta is not a member of NATO, it is a member of the EU.
Last year the Russian Navy landing ship Korolev 130 visited Piraeus, Greece. This visit was particularly worrying because Greece is not only a member of NATO and the EU, but also home to a NATO and U.S. naval base on the island of Crete.
It is irresponsible for Madrid to allow Russian warships—especially those participating in the illegal occupation of Crimea—to use Spanish ports. And it is completely unacceptable that a major NATO member would offer support to the Russian Navy at a time when Moscow is actively working to dismember Ukraine, prop up Assad, and undermine the security of the Baltic States.
NATO should make it clear at the highest levels that it views any support of the Russian Navy as completely unacceptable in light of Russian aggression.
It is not too late for Spain to start doing the right thing.