Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has defended his decision to deny airspace to Russian military planes were flying from Syria to Venezuela, insisting that it wasn’t in breach of the nation’s constitutional neutrality.
“We made the best possible decision based on information we had in hand, which was that there was a request [from Russia] to use our airspace for flights from Syria to Venezuela,” Muscat told a press conference this afternoon. “There was another request, that was later withdrawn, for a [Russian] warship that was on the same trajectory to dock in Malta.”
“Neutrality doesn’t mean we must close our eyes, ears and noses to certain things, but that we must take the best decisions in the spirit of Malta’s neutrality and in the spirit of international solidarity.”
Last week, Malta denied airspace to two Russian planes, which were transporting food, diesel generator sets and other supplies to Venezuela, which is in the midst of an economic and political crisis marked by food and medical shortages, prolonged power outages and deadly protests.
However, Malta and Russia are on different sides of the fence in the Venezuela conflict.
While Russia is supporting Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro, Malta, along with the rest of the EU, the USA and other Western and Latin American countries, officially recognises the legitimacy of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president last January.
A spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry criticised the Maltese government’s decision as “not friendly” and said that Russia will take it into account “within the framework of bilateral relations with Valletta”.
However, the United States applauded Malta’s decision, describing Maduro’s government as a “brutal dictator” and urging other countries to follow the island’s example.