Euro MPs urge action on ‘frequent’ Russian Navy visits to Spanish port

Overall view shows the Spanish northern-African enclave of Ceuta  © Desmond Boylan
Eleven Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have called on the EU’s foreign policy chief to oppose the visits of Russian warships to the Spanish port of Ceuta, which they argue has turned into a de facto Russian naval base.

In a letter addressed to Federica Mogherini, the MEPs asked whether she was aware that Ceuta – a Spanish semi-autonomous region located on the African side of Gibraltar – is “essential for maintaining the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine,” the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.

The group of lawmakers includes a Spaniard who backs Catalonian independence, a Flemish nationalist, and MEPs from Poland and the Baltic republics, the newspaper said. The officials said that since 2011 more than 50 Russian warships and military submarines have used Ceuta for supplies and as a rest stop for crew members. The MEPs asked whether Spain’s cooperation with the Russian military was in line with EU sanctions against Moscow.

Both Spanish and Russian officials have dismissed the criticism, saying that providing supplies and recreation to a foreign nation’s military is common practice. Ceuta benefits financially from the Russian visits, El Pais said. Russian sailors and officers each spend an average of €450 (US$510) in port restaurants and shops during their three-day leave, which translates into over €1 million annually. The military also buys fuel, freshwater and other supplies in the city.

According to the newspaper, the letter was backed by The Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank based in Washington, DC. It has repeatedly called on the US government to condemn the presence of the Russian military in the port, claiming it allows Russia to spy on the British naval base in Gibraltar and the US warships and submarines visiting it.

“Spain’s policy of allowing the Russian Navy to use Ceuta is hypocritical in relation to its reluctance to allow NATO to make direct visits between Gibraltar and Spanish ports. Therefore, under certain circumstances, Spain would rather have a Russian ship visit a Spanish port than a NATO ship,” the think tank said last year.

The MEPs’ argument about Ceuta’s possible role in the Ukrainian crisis remains confusing. Even if Russia wanted to deploy troops in Ukraine, it could easily provide all necessary support across the border and from its Black Sea naval bases in the Crimea and Krasnodar regions.

The Spanish case is one of several in which foreign governments have been pressured to ban the Russian military from their territory. Last year Washington reportedly asked Vietnam to prevent Russia from using the Cam Ranh Bay naval base in the South China Sea to refuel its military aircraft, a request which was rejected.