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    Russia Sidesteps Sanctions with Arms Shipments Through EU Waters to Kaliningrad

    Under the noses of European Union member states, a stealthy maritime operation by Russia is undermining international sanctions aimed at curtailing its military capabilities amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Russian vessels, part of what has been dubbed the “Sirian Express,” are transporting military equipment from Syria, blatantly traversing EU waters en route to Kaliningrad.

    This maritime route, previously utilized for the transfer of weapons and equipment left in Syria post-Russian military intervention, has evolved significantly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to insights from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a security analysis center, several Russian naval vessels now regularly navigate from Tartus in Syria to Novorossiysk on the Black Sea.

    A particular vessel, the Sparta IV, officially registered as a civilian ship yet affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Defense, was recently tracked moving through the Mediterranean, including the Sicilian Strait in international waters, under the escort of a Russian frigate. This robust protection suggests the transportation of sensitive, potentially militaristic, cargo. Experts believe this equipment is destined directly for the Ukrainian front lines.

    Upon crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, Sparta IV made its way northwards, eventually reaching Kaliningrad. This journey implies that, if indeed Sparta IV was carrying arms, banned materials successfully passed through EU territorial waters without detection or interception.

    The vessel was later spotted near Denmark, resuming its voyage after a three-week halt over the Baltic Sea, heading back towards the Syrian port. This circuitous route highlights a potentially new, more perilous path close to EU waters, as noted by Italian newspaper ‘Corriere della Sera.’

    Moreover, reports from the Financial Times in mid-March highlighted that Russian tankers in the Baltic Sea were also engaging in illicit activities, transporting oil under false flags and using fraudulent insurance. These operations involve ship-to-ship transfers in the middle of the sea, posing significant environmental risks. The transported Russian oil navigates through channels including the English Channel and Danish straits.

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