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8 Sep, 2009 11:01

Russian minister dismisses allegations hijacked ship carried weapons

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has dismissed allegations appearing in the British press, and picked up by some Finnish newspapers, that the vessel Arctic Sea was carrying weapons to Iran.

Newspapers claim the ship, which was missing for nearly a month, was loaded with S-300 anti-aircraft systems while being serviced in Kaliningrad.

From the moment of its disappearance in July, Arctic Sea proved a wonderful target for speculation. Everyone, from the people that were looking for it, to the governments of various countries and the mass media, speculated on what had happened to the ship and what it had been carrying or, more specifically, whether or not it was carrying something illegal.

Some media sources came to the conclusion that the ship could have potentially been carrying Russian missiles to no other country but Iran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has categorically denied any such allegations of smuggling, and said there was no illegal cargo on board the Arctic Sea. The only cargo the ship was carrying was a large amount of timber.

“The information that there were S-300 missiles aboard the Arctic Sea is absolutely not true. Russia will launch an inspection of that ship as soon as possible, and I assure you we will keep it as transparent as possible so that everyone will be able to see that the rumors are false,” assured journalists the Russian foreign minister at a news conference in Moscow on Tuesday.

Since then, a forensic team from Russia’s Investigative Committee of the General Prosecutor’s Office has carried out a detailed inspection of the Arctic Sea’s cargo bay.

“Arctic Sea is now in open sea. Investigators have inspected its cargo in detail. There’s only timber and sawn wood. Forensic experts found no cargo but the one declared so far,” Vladimir Markin, the committee’s spokesman, told the media.

He added that the team is to go on with its work on board for several days.

Transparency is something that is necessary in the Arctic Sea’s case because it has been one big mystery ever since it left port in Scandinavia and disappeared after a few days.

The mystery of Arctic Sea

The Maltese-flagged vessel with 15 Russian crewmembers on board mysteriously disappeared from radar screens at the end of July, sparking an international search and prompting much speculation.

Later it was discovered that the “Arctic Sea” was seized on July 24 in the Baltic Sea. On August 17 the vessel was found by the Russian navy 300 miles off Cape Verde.

The Russian frigate “Ladny” freed the “Arctic Sea” cargo ship in the Atlantic without firing a shot and arrested eight alleged hijackers from Estonia, Latvia and Russia.

A criminal investigation into the case has been launched. The suspects were officially charged with piracy and kidnapping and the crewmembers returned home.

North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs

At the same time, Moscow has been very clear on its positions concerning North Korean and Iranian nuclear ambitions. Moscow insists that under no circumstances should these two countries be forced into a corner and somehow made to co-operate by force, because that would only worsen the situation and lead to further complications.

Lavrov said that the frame of six-party talks that concern the North Korean nuclear program should continue and a compromising diplomatic solution should be found.

As for Iran, Russia has consistently denied supplying missiles of any kind to the country. Russia continues to maintain that Iran deserves a peaceful nuclear program of its own, and it is not targeted at creating a nuclear weapons, which is why Russia is building the Bushehr nuclear power plant for Iran.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says the talks must continue and Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs need to be more transparent in order for the international community to accept them as they are.