A group of eleven members of the European Parliament have complained to the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, about the presence of Russian vessels in the Spanish occupied enclave of Ceuta (Sebta)
Since 2011 around 60 Russian warships have stopped in Ceuta to resupply and give their crews a rest. The vessels have included an attack submarine, frigates, destroyers, amphibious assault ships and auxiliary vessels.
The European parliamentarians say that the frequency with which Russian navy ships call into the port – at least 10 times a year – has turned the Spanish exclave into the main base of the Russian fleet in the western Mediterranean.
|The Russian submarine ‘Novorossiysk’ in Ceuta|
The Europeans are not alone in raising objections to the use of Ceuta by the Russians. This month Republican Congressman Joe Pitts tabled a motion in the US Congress urging Spain to stop allowing Russian Navy warships to refuel in Ceuta.
The motion, earlier this month, coincided with the arrival of another Russian vessel, the frigate Ladny, which stopped at the port to refuel and two days after two British Royal Navy ships escorted another Russian frigate, the Admiral Grigorovich, through UK waters.
“The presence of the Russian Navy close to British territorial waters in Gibraltar presents significant intelligence and security risks for the United States, the United Kingdom, and the NATO alliance,” the Pitts' motion states.
|The frigate Ladny|
Spain rejects all criticism and points out that the Russian visits typically last around three days and generate revenue for a city. According to the Ceuta Port Authority, around 2,300 Russian sailors spent leave in the city in 2014, each changing around €450 of foreign currency. That adds up to over €1 million a year, with most of it going on local dining and shopping. In addition Ceuta gains income from resupplying. An amphibious ship needs around 300 tons of diesel fuel and 150 tons of water; an oil tanker might need as much as 3,750 tons of fuel.
The Russian embassy in Madrid expressed surprise at the fact that “such a common practice as calling into foreign ports” could be the subject of controversy.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think tank says that “Spain’s policy of allowing the Russian navy to use Ceuta is hypocritical in relation to its reluctance to allow NATO to make direct visits between Gibraltar and Spanish ports.”
“The US government 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,” adds a Heritage policy brief.
|Russia's destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov|
The brief points out that some of the visits by the Russian Navy have curious timing. For example, during the same week in April 2014 that the EU announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, Spain made a mockery out of the sanctions by hosting at Ceuta the Russian destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov, and two Russian navy tankers, the Dubna and the Sergey Osipov.
The most recent visit was made by the Russian submarine Novorossiysk en route to its base in the Black Sea. The Novorossiysk, commissioned in August 2014, is one of Russia’s newest submarines and one of the quietest diesel-powered submarines in the world.