A Russian cargo ship that Ukraine claims is holding stolen wheat from territory confiscated by Moscow appears to have reached the Syrian port of Tartus, according to satellite images analyzed by the Associated Press on Thursday.
The arrival of SV Konstantin marks only the last batch of Ukrainian grain – whether legally bought or allegedly looted – to reach Syria. Another ship, the Razoni, recently docked full of legally purchased Ukrainian corn as part of a United Nations-led effort to move the country’s food from the war zone to a starving world.
The arrival of the Constantine also shows the extent to which Damascus has relied on Russia to keep Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad in power amid his own nation’s years of war, particularly in this Mediterranean port that is home to and vitally important Russian warships Russia is led granaries.
According to MarineTraffic.com ship-tracking data analyzed by AP, the Konstantin departed from the Russian-occupied Crimea peninsula in the Black Sea around July 6.
The ship loaded Ukrainian wheat in Sevastopol, the Ukrainian embassy in Lebanon said in a statement to AP on Thursday. In this Crimean port city, Russian forces have previously trucked grain from occupied territories, Ukrainian officials say.
The Konstantin sailed through the Bosphorus and reached the Turkish city of Izmir on the Aegean Sea. The ship then continued into the Mediterranean Sea along the coast of Cyprus before turning off its automatic identification system tracker on Sunday. Ships should keep their AIS trackers on, but ships that want to hide their movements often turn theirs off. Those calling at Syrian ports do so routinely.
Planet Labs PBC satellite imagery analyzed by AP shows the Constantine off the coast of Tartus on Tuesday and Wednesday. The ship’s length, width and appearance are similar to previous Planet Labs images of the ship taken when its AIS tracker was still north of Cyprus.
Yoruk Isik, a non-resident scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute who oversees navigation through the Bosphorus, has tracked the Constantine. He and other open-source intelligence analysts initially said that based on the satellite photos, they believed the ship was also off Tartus.
After being contacted by AP, the Ukrainian embassy in Lebanon also said it believes the Konstantin arrived in Syria, having previously claimed she was going to Tripoli, Lebanon.
“On board this ship is grain that was looted by the Russian occupation authorities and transported illegally from storage facilities in the temporarily occupied areas in Zaporizhia, Kherson and Mykolaiv,” the embassy said.
Officials at the port of Tartus could not be reached for comment. The Syrian Mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
Syria continues to face sanctions from the West for the killing and mistreatment of civilians during the civil war, although food supplies have been cut off by the West. As early as May, satellite images showed the Russian-flagged Matros Pozynich in the port of Latakia, Syria. Ukraine said the ship stole 27,000 tons of grain from Russia and initially tried to sell it to Egypt, which refused to accept the cargo.
Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea is about 200 miles northwest of Syria’s capital, Damascus. Russia’s Soviet-era naval base is Moscow’s only such facility outside of the former Soviet Union.
In 2017, Moscow reached an agreement with Assad’s government to extend Tartus’ lease by 49 years. The deal allows Russia to station up to 11 warships there, including nuclear-powered ones. Satellite photos this week showed at least two Russian submarines and other warships in port.
The port is operated by the Russian company Stroytransgaz, which is owned by billionaire oligarch Gennady Timchenko through his investment firm Volga Group. Timchenko, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is being sanctioned by the European Union and the United States. Stroytransgaz did not respond to a request for comment.
https://nypost.com/2022/08/18/russian-ship-that-ukraine-alleges-has-stolen-wheat-likely-in-syria/ Russian ship Ukraine claims may have stolen wheat in Syria