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9 September, 2013 10:25   ▪  

The Washington Post: Suppliers of weapons to Syria may have used Ukrainian sea port in Mykolayiv Oblast

A new study by independent conflict researchers describes a heavy volume of traffic in the past two years from Ukraine’s Oktyabrsk port, just up the Black Sea coast from Odessa, to Syria’s main ports on the Mediterranean, Jobby Warrick writes for The Washington Post

“Western governments have long known that Russia is providing crucial backing for the government of President Bashar al-Assad,” the publication writes. “But Western intelligence officials and independent experts say a substantial portion of the aid appears to be arriving in commercial ships, prompting analysts to look closely at this Cold War-era military port and its long history of arming Russian allies and some of the world’s most repressive regimes.”

Some of the larger vessels are linked to a network of businessmen and companies with ties to senior government officials in Russia and Ukraine, the article says based on the report by C4ADS, a Washington-based nonprofit group. According to its authors quoted by The Washington Post through their report, the gaps in transponder data are a relatively recent phenomenon that coincides with international criticism of Russia for aiding its longtime Syrian ally despite the government’s brutal repression of the civilian population.

READ ALSO: Syria’s Importance for Moscow

When asked to comment on this, Kaalbye Group, the Ukraine-based company that owns the Ocean Fortune which The Washington Post describes as “a 380-foot-long workhorse of the global arms trade” acknowledged in an e-mail that one of its ships, the Ocean Voyage, traveled to Syria last year to discharge a “dual-purpose cargo” that was legally permitted under the rules of the International Maritime Organization but asserted that there had been no further travel to Syrian ports by any of its vessels.

The Black Sea port that is the focus of questions about Syrian arms shipping is unknown to most Westerners, for good reason, the publication claims: “For most of its existence, Oktyabrsk was a top-secret naval installation, a key part of the military supply chain for the Soviet Union and its allies around the world…. The report identifies Oktyabrsk as the point of origin for weapons shipments headed to more than a dozen countries, many with histories of brutal repression of opposition groups or ethnic or religious minorities. The list of customers includes Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, Venezuela, China, Angola and Iran.”

Despite being in Ukraine, Oktyabrsk “is functionally controlled by Russia,” and the port is headed by a former Russian navy captain and owned by a business magnate with close ties to the Kremlin, The Washington Post quotes the report. “Major Russian weapons exporters have offices there, alongside Ukrainian and Russian shipping and logistics companies the report has dubbed the “Odessa Network.”

READ ALSO: “Ukraine could have been one of the main sources of arms shipments to the Balkans during the war, despite the embargo”

The report lists the business consortium Kaalbye Group as a key player in the network.

“The firm’s senior managers have business and professional ties to officials at the highest levels of the Russian and Ukrainian governments and arms industries, connections confirmed in company Web sites and trade publications,” the article states. “One co-founder, Igor Urbansky, was a deputy minister of transportation in Ukraine. Another co-founder, Boris Kogan, is also a board member of RT Logistika, a subsidiary of a large, state-owned Russian industrial consortium that includes Russia’s most prominent military export firm, Rosoboronexport. The consortium is headed by Sergei Chemezov, a close Putin ally. All of RT-Logistika’s other board members are senior defense officials, including the director of logistics for Rosoboronexport.”

The C4ADS analysts found that several Syrian cargo ships made a dozen or more round trips between Oktyabrsk and one of Syria’s three main ports between January 2012 and the middle of 2013, but the shipping records did not allow them to tell whether the boats were carrying military supplies or more innocuous cargo. Kaalbye’s entire fleet of seven freighters picked up cargo in Oktyabrsk over the past 18 months, the report said quoted by The Washington Post, and then, in the case of the Ocean Fortune, disappeared from at least three global databases that record transponder data for international shipping.

READ ALSO: Examining Weapons

“The evidence presents a strong circumstantial case that these ships and companies were moving weapons or other sensitive cargo to the Assad regime,” the publication writes based on the report’s conclusions. “Bolstering the case is the fact that ‘publicly reported Russian arms shipments were also carried out by members of this network.’”

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