Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Report: Military shipment to Syria 'effectively halted'

While world leaders try to tackle the global debt crisis at the G20 summit in Mexico, all eyes are focusing on relations between President Obama and Russia's Vladimir Putin in the face of the Syria crisis. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

By Alastair Jamieson,

A ship carrying military helicopters and missiles from Russia to Syria has been effectively stopped off the coast of Scotland after its British insurers canceled the vessel?s cover, according to a report.

The MV Alaed was carrying weapons and Mi25 helicopters from the Russian port of Kaliningrad, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The vessel has been closely monitored by intelligence since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said such shipments were adding to the arsenal of weaponry available in Syria, which has spiraled into civil war.

Britain's Foreign Office confirmed the report, but declined to give further details.?

The ship was heading south toward the English Channel on its way to Syria?s Mediterranean coast, according to the most recent information available from tracking website Marine Traffic.?Its next move is unclear.?

Without insurance, the ship is unable to proceed, the Foreign Office said.

The British marine insurer Standard Club said it had withdrawn cover from the ship?s owner, Femco, a Russian cargo line.?

"We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria," the company said in a statement. "We have already informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage."

Arms shipments from Russia to Syria are not prohibited by the United Nations because attempts to impose sanctions have been vetoed by allies of Damascus, including Moscow.

However, a European Union arms embargo outlaws the "transfer or export" of arms and any related "brokering" services such as insurance to Syria by EU members, including Britain.

The Soviet-era helicopters onboard MV Alaed were returning to Syria after being sent to their Russian manufacturer, Mil, for servicing and repairs, the Telegraph reported.

NBC News first reported last week that Russia is preparing to send troops to Syria in the event that it needs to protect personnel and remove equipment from its naval facility in the Mediterranean port of Tartus.

Syria is Moscow's firmest foothold in the Middle East and buys weapons from Russia worth billions of dollars. It also hosts the Russian navy's only permanent warm-water port outside the former Soviet Union.

Russia has used its U.N. Security Council veto to dilute Western efforts to condemn Syrian President Bashar Assad and secure his exit from power, arguing that deposing a government using external pressure is unacceptable.

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