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Is this the start of a diplomatic spat between Malta and Russia?
A spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry has criticised the Maltese government after it denied airspace to two Russian military planes which were flying from Syria to Venezuela.
“The Maltese government’s solution wasn’t friendly,” Maria Zakharova told a press conference today. “Russia will take this into account within the framework of bilateral relations with with Valletta.”
However, she vehemently denied suggestions that the the Kremlin could retaliate with a misinformation campaign against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat during or after next month’s European Parliament elections.
This suggestion was made by an anonymous diplomatic source who spoke to BuzzFeed News, which broke the story this week.
“It’s absolutely absurd to suggest that Russia might embark on a campaign to discredit the Maltese government in spring,” Zakharova said. “Such fake news and coverage destroys the good image of the mass media in Malta.”
Joseph Muscat with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev
“Russia’s position is the following: we will not interfere into the sovereignty of countries, no matter how big they are or what military powers they have. We ask Malta and the media to take it into account.”
BuzzFeed News obtained a copy of the request made to Malta’s foreign ministry which allegedly showed that Russia wanted to transport food supplies, diesel generator sets and other engineering, technical and medical supplies needed by Moscow’s diplomatic mission in Venezuela. Russia said the planes won’t carry arms, explosives, or poisonous or harmful materials.
Venezuela is in the midst of an economic and political crisis, marked by food and medical shortages, prolonged power outages and deadly protests.
However, while Russia is supporting Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro, Malta, along with the rest of the EU, officially recognises the legitimacy of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president last January. Guaidó is also backed by the United States, Canada, Australia and several Latin American countries.