Russia has withdrawn a request for a carrier battle group to refuel in Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, after NATO allies raised concerns.
The battle group has been sailing from Russia to the Mediterranean for the past week. It was carrying dozens of fighter bombers and helicopters which NATO said Russia could use to target civilians and opposition forces in Syria as part of its military campaign supporting the Syrian regime.
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"The Russian Embassy in Madrid has just informed us that it is withdrawing the request for permission for stopovers for these ships and these stopovers have therefore been cancelled," the ministry said.
Spain, a NATO member, came under pressure by the NATO allies when said it reviewing Russia’s request.
While expressing concern, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier in the day said it was up to Spanish authorities to decide whether to refuel the Russian warships.
"We are concerned about the potential use of this carrier group to increase attacks against civilians in Aleppo," Stoltenberg said, referring to a Syrian city where regime forces backed by Russian military are besieging its opposition-held eastern half.
The US Ambassador to NATO, Ambassador Douglas Lute, said Russia was within its right to move vessels through international waters. But the US envoy also raised concern that the carrier group would be used to contribute to bombing of civilian targets around Aleppo.
Just last week Spain had signed a European Council statement accusing Russia of war crimes in Syria.
However, the Spanish foreign ministry said Russian navy vessels have made stops in Spanish ports for years and that permission is granted on a case-by-case basis.
According to Heritage Foundation, a US-based think tank, at least 57 Russian navy ships have stopped in Ceuta between 2011 and August 2015.