Tensions between UK and Russia soared over Syria-bound helicopters

 

Mexico City

Britain came alarmingly close to a dangerous clash with Moscow when David Cameron was asked to consider giving an order to forcibly board a ship headed towards the English Channel carrying three Russian-made helicopters for delivery to the regime in Syria, it emerged today.

Any seizure would have been carried out by members of the Special Boat Service, SBS, the only military unit authorised to performing opposed embarkations at sea. The helicopters are believed to be the same ones that prompted US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, recently to berate Russia for sending military hardware to Syria.

Officials traveling with the Prime Minister on an official visit to Mexico City yesterday gave the first detailed account of a series of high-level meetings that happened at Whitehall at the end of last week as the authorities tracked the ship, the MV Alead, which was steaming southwards through the North Sea after departing from Leningrad port.

Mr Cameron was briefed on a continuous basis, they said, on the results of a series of meetings of the emergency Cobra committee as the ship approached waters off Dover. Officials said that at that point "all options were on the table" about preventing the ship continuing its voyage towards Syria.  They did not deny that those options might have included an armed boarding and seizure of the vessel, an action that surely would have elicited Russian ire.

As the Government consulted with Denmark and the Netherlands on options for stopping it, the ship abruptly turned around on Friday, they said. But by the end of the weekend it was in the Hebrides area and bound westwards apparently on a course to go around Scotland and then south again towards the Straits of Gibraltar.

The crisis only eased, it seems, when an international maritime insurance firm was persuaded to withdraw coverage of the ship and its cargo.  At noon on Monday, the ship had turned eastwards again.  Yesterday, it was reported to be back in the Baltic seemingly headed back to Russia. 

The near-scrape on the seas was raised by Mr Cameron at a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Los Cabos G20 summit yesterday, sources said.  He directly challenged him about arming the Syrian regime. Mr Putin responded with the assertion that other countries had been arming opposition forces in Syria.

Britain is expected to push the European Union to redraft parts of its arms embargo on Syria to extend it into the area of insurance.  The changes would mean that any company found to be selling coverage to vessels bearing arms to Syra would be in violation of the sanctions.  They said it would be handled at a foreign ministers council meeting in Brussels next week.

Asked directly if plans were laid to seize the Alead the senior UK official said they had "considered all options".  Officials believe the three helicopters were already owned by the Syrian regime but had been sent to Russia for servicing.  Returning them to Syria would have increased the size of its helicopter fleet by 10 per cent.  Some air defence weaponry was also thought to be on the Alead.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Sport
sport
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all