By Gabriela Baczynska and Alissa de Carbonnel
BRUSSELS/STRASBOURG (Reuters) – The European Union is looking into whether Russian tankers carried jet fuel to Syria through the bloc’s waters despite this being banned, an EU source said on Wednesday.
The shipments to Syria bolstered military supplies to a country where Moscow is carrying out air strikes on rebels in support of the government, Reuters reported, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.
EU Council Regulation 1323/2014, introduced two years ago, bans any supply of jet fuel to Syria from the EU territories, whether or not the fuel originated in the European Union.
Asked about the Reuters report, the source said the EU was “aware and acting on it”, but did not elaborate.
Under EU rules, if the European Commission believes sanctions imposed by the bloc may be being flouted, it can raise the issue with member states which are responsible for their enforcement.
The source declined to say if this was the case now.
Russia’s defense ministry said that, as it was not a member of the European Union, such sanctions did not apply to its air group in Syria.
At least two Russian-flagged ships made deliveries via Cyprus, an intelligence source with a European Union government told Reuters. A separate shipping source familiar with the movements of the Russian-flagged vessels said the ships visited Cypriot and Greek ports before delivering fuel to Syria.
A European lawmaker had earlier asked the bloc’s foreign policy chief to launch an investigation.
Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament for the Dutch Democratic Party, submitted a priority question to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini in response to the report.
Schaake asked Mogherini in a written submission whether she was aware of such fuel deliveries, and if EU member states’ territory was used in contravention of sanctions.
“Will the HR/VP (Mogherini) start an investigation into the circumstances under which two EU member states acted, and whether it was indeed contrary to an EU Council Regulation?” she said in her question.
The Cypriot foreign ministry said its authorities had not approved the docking of any Russian tankers carrying jet fuel bound for Syria.
Greece’s foreign ministry referred questions to the shipping ministry, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the United States, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said: “While the decision to allow a port call is a national determination, we believe that states in the region should not support any Russian tanker ship carrying fuel to be used in ongoing air strikes on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria.”
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Mark Hosenball in Washington and Jonathan Saul in London, Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by Pravin Char)