WASHINGTON – A Russian ship carrying attack helicopters to the Syrian government turned back toward home Tuesday after its London-based insurance carrier canceled coverage after being warned by the British government that delivery would violate European Union sanctions.
U.S. and British officials said the ship, which had reached the North Sea near Scotland, appeared to be returning to its home port on the Baltic Sea.
The Obama administration declined to claim credit for stopping the journey of the Russian-owned merchant vessel Alaed. But the insurance tactic was originated by the Treasury Department four months ago to prevent at least two shipments of Syrian oil from reaching the open market via Iran, a senior administration official said.
In the earlier episodes, the American insurer of a Liberian-flagged vessel and the European insurer of a Maltese-flagged ship both canceled coverage after being told they were violating U.S. and E.U. sanctions prohibiting any involvement in arms shipments or economic support for Syria, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The administration shared the tactic with its European allies, the official said. E.U. sanctions implemented two months ago prohibit insurance on Syrian goods.
About a dozen M-25 helicopters aboard the Alaed were first sold to Syria during the Soviet era and had been returned to Russia some time ago for refurbishment. The Obama administration charged last week that the aircraft, which it said were on their way back to Syria, would be used in President Assads attacks against civilians.
The charge came amid an increasingly tense diplomatic standoff between Moscow and Washington. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week that Russia was supplying the Syrian military with the means to intensify its campaign against the rebel opposition.
Russia, one of Syrias strongest allies, has refused to join the U.S.-led campaign to pressure Assad to honor a U.N.-brokered cease-fire and negotiate a transfer of power.