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Robert Abela ‘Has No Information’ On Whether Covert Russian Warship Refueling Took Place Or Not

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Prime Minister Robert Abela has said he has no information whether the Maltese government was involved in the alleged covert refueling of Russian warships or not.

Lovin Malta recently questioned Abela about the allegation that was made by Mark Camilleri in his new book A Rent Seeker’s Paradise, which is set to be released to the mass market tomorrow.

“I don’t have any information about it,” the Prime Minister said. “Since becoming Prime Minister in January 2020, my focus wasn’t on Russian aircraft carriers but on getting us through the political crisis and the pandemic and on passing several reforms related to the rule of law.”

The issue dates back to October 2016, when a Russian flotilla requested permission to refuel in Malta.

Led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the flagship of the Russian Navy, the ships had originally planned to refuel in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta but ended up withdrawing this request following criticism by Nato that the ships could be used to bomb Syrian civilians in the Siege of Aleppo.

On 27th October 2016, a day after Russia withdrew its Ceuta request, then Foreign Affairs Minister (now President of the Republic) George Vella said that Malta won’t be refuelling the flotilla as it doesn’t want to be party to the obscenities committed in Aleppo.

This refusal was reported in the Russian press and condemned by the Russian foreign ministry, which said that Malta had “fallen victim to an information war led by the West”.

The Associated Press then reported that it received a letter showing Malta had given the Russian military replenishment fuel tanker RFS Dubna diplomatic clearance to berth in Malta one week before Vella’s announcement.

During the 2017 election campaign, then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat claimed Malta had received intelligence from foreign agencies to expect Russian meddling in the election as payback for its refusal to refuel the warships, as well as for its role in facilitating a visa waiver programme for Ukraine while in charge of the EU rotating presidency.

However, Camilleri, a former PL delegate and chairman of the Malta Book Council, has now claimed this was nothing but a mise-en-scène, theatrics to cover up the truth that Malta had actually refueled the ships. 

He said that then OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri had called up Darren Debono to ask him to refuel the Kuznetsov in foreign waters. However, as the Kuznetsov runs on heavy-fuel oil and Debono traded in diesel, another oil player had to be roped in to provide him with the HFO needed to refuel the Russian ship.

Camilleri didn’t mention the name of this second oil player in his book but he told Lovin Malta he knew their identity. Debono has denied any involvement.

“Surprise surprise, the Russians voted against a UN Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Darren Debono,” Camilleri wrote. “Yet the Russians didn’t miss the opportunity to make some public theatre to the press, complaining about being discriminated against by the Maltese government for supposedly failing to refuel the warship.”

Debono has denied the allegations, telling Lovin Malta that he was never involve with the refuelling of the Admiral Kuznetsov or other Russian ships, that he never held any meetings with politicians over the refuelling of Russian ships, and that Schembri never called him up.

READ NEXT: LIVE INTERVIEW AT 5:30pm: Transport Minister Ian Borg On Metro Plans And Malta's Infrastructure Future

Tim is interested in the rapid evolution of human society brought about by technological advances. He’s passionate about justice, human rights and cutting-edge political debates. You can follow him on Twitter at @timdiacono or reach out to him at [email protected]

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