The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

TMID Editorial: A case of Russian déjà vu or... - Another pre-electoral red herring

Thursday, 18 April 2019, 10:24 Last update: about 5 months ago

Another election is shortly upon us and, just like the last election Russia is once again popping into the picture.

There are two sides to the coin of reports that the Maltese government has refused airspace access to Russian military planes en route to Venezuela from Syria.

On the one side, we should take our hats off to the Maltese government for having taken such a bold move and having risked and incurred the wrath of Russia. This was the same admirable stance Malta had taken before the 21017 election when it refused entry to a Russian warship headed for war-ravaged Syria.

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The government in that case was undoubtedly on the right side of history.

The ship was to dock in Malta where it was to take on fuel and supplies. The fact that Malta, at the end of the day, refused permission had been applauded most of the world over.  Malta’s decision came just a day after Spain had also refused to resupply Russian warships that are suspected to be headed toward the eastern Mediterranean to support Russian and Syrian airstrikes – airstrikes that have caused so much harrowing devastation and loss of civilian life.

Now those assets in Syria are reported as being diverted to Venezuela and, according to the Russian request made to Malta’s foreign ministry, the purpose of the flights was humanitarian in nature.

The planes were apparently bringing food, medicines, generators and medical specialists required by Moscow’s diplomatic mission in Venezuela. It also stipulated that the planes would not carry arms, explosives, or poisonous or harmful materials.

But for some reason, Malta was not buying any of it, which is a good thing, and a grandiose gesture on the international stage.  Malta’s move also comes against the backdrop of the Pentagon developing new military options for Venezuela aimed at deterring Russian and Chinese influence inside the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The deterrence options are being ordered following a White House meeting last week, and Malta could very well be following suit. 

But given the proximity to our MEP elections, and the first local council elections that will ne national in nature, one has some lingering suspicions.  One wonders whether the whole story is a resurrection of that from the 2017 election past.

One recalls how the Labour Party, which habitually likes to cast itself as the perpetual electoral underdogs, had milked a similar situation back in 2017.

The Prime Minister at the time had suggested that people in the upper echelons at the Kremlin, who are known to do nothing without Putin’s seal of approval, actually plotted to derail the Maltese elections to remove Joseph Muscat from power as revenge for having denied the warship permission to refuel.

He said he had information from Malta’s security services that Russia was interfering in the Maltese electoral process with the aim of dethroning him as revenge for Malta’s refusal last November to refuel a Russian naval asset heading to Syria, as well as for facilitating Ukraine’s entry into the EU’s visa waiver programme. 

But those claims were never substantiated, nor was the matter taken up in a tangible diplomatic way as far as we are informed.

Those claims could have been put down to yet another incidence of riding on the coattails of the widely-reported American political scene where it had been alleged that Russia tampered with the American electoral process last year.

But if that is the case, what about these latest pre-electoral claims, which have also not been substantiated?

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