The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

US applauds Malta for denying Russian military, calls on others to follow the example

Sunday, 21 April 2019, 08:45 Last update: about 5 months ago

Malta was involved in a proxy war of words between the United States and Russia, as the two global powers inched closer to an actual proxy war in Venezuela yesterday.

US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus had taken to Twitter to salute Malta for having denied permission for Russian military aircraft to stop over and fly over Malta, saying, “We applaud the government of #Malta for refusing to allow Russian planes to use its airspace to supply the brutal former regime in #Venezuela.


“We call on all countries to follow Malta’s example to stop the Kremlin’s support for the dictator Maduro. #EstamosUnidosVE @MFAMalta,” she wrote, tagging Malta’s foreign affairs ministry.

Russia’s own foreign ministry was quick to reply, and in the process launched a broadside against Malta, tagging both the US State Department and Malta’s foreign ministry, saying, “We are trying hard to keep your hands (sic) away from trigger. So keep applauding - at least it’s harmless.”

Malta has twice refused airspace access to Russian military planes en route to Venezuela from Syria over recent weeks, in a similar stance to that taken by Malta in 2017, when it refused a Russian warship permission to refuel in Malta.

The arrival of Russian military planes in Venezuela from Syria last March had spurred harsh criticism from the US, who has accused Moscow of destabilising the situation in the Latin American state, currently engulfed in a political crisis. Russia, for its part, has recalled that its planes arrived under a bilateral agreement with Caracas.

The US has now called on the international community to deny Russian planes flying to Venezuela passage through their airspace, following Malta’s move. 

Ortagus said that such a decision could help stop Russian support for the country’s President Nicolas Maduro.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova earlier stated that Malta had refused to provide the green light for the passage of two Russian planes carrying cargo and personnel to Venezuela.

The spokeswoman noted that Malta did not provide any reason and added that Moscow would take this fact into consideration in its bilateral relations with the island nation.

Venezuela has been engulfed in a political crisis, which took another turn after opposition figure Juan Guaido proclaimed himself the country’s interim president. The move was immediately supported by the US and most Western states, but was harshly criticised by Russia, Turkey and China, among others, who expressed their support for Maduro.

Washington has lambasted Moscow’s support for the president and, specifically, the arrival of Russian planes carrying military personnel in March 2019. The US called their arrival an “unwelcomed provocation.” At the same time, Moscow said that its military personnel had arrived to carry out maintenance on Russian military tech under a bilateral agreement with Caracas.

On Friday, reports emerged to the effect that Russia had withdrawn yet another request, this time for one of its ships to dock in Malta with the intent of buying riot gear and tear gas to supply to Venezuela, according to news reports.

Buzzfeed reported that Malta had planned to reject the request all the same.

According to the report, the Russian embassy in Malta filed the request on 28 March. It had asked for the ship – the Severomorsk – to dock in Malta between 23 and 26 April.  

Buzzfeed, quoting unnamed senior Maltese government sources, said the request was for the ship to dock for provisioning and rest.

Russian diplomats were trying to purchase riot gear and gas canisters on the island, which officials suspect they wanted to load on to the ship, the report said.

Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs and its embassy in Malta did not respond to a request for comment, Buzzfeed added.

A few days before that, Malta had denied Russia permission to use its airspace to fly military aircraft to Caracas from Syria.

The latest move is believed to have raised concerns among senior US and European government officials that Moscow is looking to boost its military presence in Venezuela while also flexing its muscles in the Mediterranean.

The Maltese authorities had asked Russia for additional information about its request but have since been told by US officials that the ship is on its way to Venezuela.

The request, which was withdrawn by Russia on Tuesday, would have been denied by Malta nevertheless, according to the unnamed sources.

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