Russia denies Arctic Sea carried missiles to Iran | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, September 08, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, September 08, 2009

Russia denies Arctic Sea carried missiles to Iran

Russia yesterday vehemently denied that a cargo ship whose supposed seizure by pirates sparked an international mystery was carrying sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft missiles bound for Iran.
Russian investigators inspected the Arctic Sea cargo ship and found nothing but timber, despite reports it may have carried a secret arms shipment, Interfax and RIA-Novosti news agencies reported.
A British newspaper reported at the weekend that the Arctic Sea had been carrying a batch of S-300 missiles, as conspiracy theories swirl over the ship's mysterious disappearance and reappearance.
"Regarding the S-300s on board the Arctic Sea, this is absolutely untrue," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters, when asked if the ship was secretly carrying the advanced Russian-made missiles to Iran.
The Arctic Sea, a Maltese-flagged vessel with a Russian crew, was hijacked near Sweden in late July before being recovered by the Russian navy in the Atlantic Ocean several weeks later.
The seizure of the ship in one of Europe's busiest shipping lanes, the huge international effort to recover it and the detention of its crewmen after they returned to Russia have fuelled speculation about a secret cargo.
Officially the ship was carrying a load of timber worth 1.7 million dollars (1.16 million euros) from Finland to Algeria, but speculation has raged that it was carrying weapons or even nuclear materials.
Russian officials said nothing suspicious was found aboard the ship when it was recovered near the Cape Verde archipelago, but have vowed a more thorough inspection when it arrives within days at the Russian port of Novorossiisk.
Lavrov said representatives of Malta, the flag government of the Arctic Sea, would be invited to take part in the inspection.
"Everything will be done transparently. I hope everyone will be convinced that the rumours you are referring to are absolutely groundless," Lavrov said in response to the reporter's question.
This weekend the Sunday Times of London, citing Russian and Israeli sources, reported that Israel's Mossad intelligence service had learned the ship was carrying S-300s to Iran and worked with Moscow to stop the shipment.
According to the Sunday Times report, Israel learned that the ship had been loaded with weapons in Russia's Baltic Sea port of Kaliningrad by former military officers with links to criminal groups.
The newspaper said that Mossad, acting with the Moscow government's backing, may have set up the hijacking in a bid to stop the shipment without causing Russia embarrassment.
Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Russia and held talks with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on August 18, the day after Russia announced it had recaptured the Arctic Sea from pirates.
Following the talks, Peres said he had secured a promise from Medvedev that Russia would review its decision to sell S-300s to Iran.
At the time, Peres' visit appeared unrelated to the Arctic Sea, but the Sunday Times stressed a connection.
"Clearly the Israelis played a role in the whole Arctic Sea saga," the newspaper quoted a Russian military source as saying.
"Peres used the incident as a bargaining chip over the issue of arms sales to Arab states, while Israel allowed the Kremlin a way out with its claims to have successfully foiled a piracy incident."
Russia reportedly agreed to sell Iran S-300s several years ago, but Western countries and Israel fiercely opposed the deal as the missiles would greatly enhance Tehran's ability to protect against an air strike.
Eight suspects -- including Russians, Estonians and Latvians -- have been accused of hijacking the Arctic Sea and are now awaiting trial in Moscow on piracy and kidnapping charges.
Compounding the conspiracy theories, a respected Russian shipping expert, Mikhail Voitenko, fled the country last week claiming he had been intimidated over his Arctic Sea coverage, which cast doubt on officials' version of events.

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