Wed, Sep 09, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Athens mulls Russian flights ban

AFP, ATHENS

The US has asked Greece to ban Russian supply flights to Syria from its airspace, a Greek official said on Monday, amid growing US fears that Moscow is increasing its military backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Confirming the US request, a Greek foreign ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “We received the [US] request on Saturday and are examining it.”

Russia has asked Greece — a NATO member — to permit the passage of two planes between Sept. 1 and Sept. 24, the Greek official said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by news agencies as saying “our Greek partners have said they will consider the US request” to bar the planes.

“It is too early for us to respond,” he said.

Washington is concerned that Moscow could be increasing its military support to al-Assad’s regime, an issue raised by US Secretary of State John Kerry to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov over the weekend.

“The Americans are unhappy about this,” Duma Foreign Affairs Committee deputy head Leonid Kalashnikov was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

“Any country is entitled to close its airspace, but the big question is: Does Greece need to or not?” he said. “Because we too can do the same thing regarding their flights.”

The New York Times reported that Russia had sent a military advance team to Syria and was taking other steps that Washington fears might signal plans to vastly expand its military support for al-Assad’s regime.

Moscow has dismissed US concerns, saying its aid to al-Assad is nothing extraordinary.

“The Russian side has never concealed the fact that it is sending military equipment to the Syrian authorities to help them fight terrorism,” Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters earlier on Monday, commenting on the Kerry-Lavrov phone talks.

Russian Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov told RIA Novosti that if Greece closes its air space for Russian planes, Moscow would find other routes.

“This is a silly move and if Greece moves to support it then it would also be unfriendly towards Russia,” Dzhabarov was quoted as saying.

He suggested that Russia could turn to countries like Iran and Turkey for help.

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