Hijacked Russian ship may have been carrying missiles to the Middle East

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Hijacked Russian ship may have been carrying missiles to the Middle East

A fascinating story that really does leave you wondering just what the Russians were up to on the Arctic Sea.

In July, the Russian-manned cargo ship the Arctic Sea disappeared on its way to take timber from Finland to Algeria. Since then, the Russian navy has found the ship, and the alleged hijackers who boarded it on July 24 have been charged with kidnapping and piracy.

Russia's official explanation of what happened will probably become the final one - this was a hijacking thwarted by its navy without a shot being fired. But there are baffling details left unexplained, leading some experts to claim that the truth is much more sinister: the Arctic Sea, they say, was intercepted by Israel as it carried a secret cargo of weapons to the Middle East.

The highest-ranking official to put forward this version of events is the European Union's rapporteur on piracy and a former commander of the Estonian armed forces, Admiral Tarmo Kouts. In an interview with TIME, he says only a shipment of missiles could account for Russia's bizarre behavior throughout the monthlong saga.
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There is the idea that there were missiles aboard, and one can't explain this situation in any other way. As a sailor with years of experience, I can tell you that the official versions are not realistic.

Kouts says an Israeli interception of the cargo is the most likely explanation. The official explanation coming out of Moscow is simple enough: the Arctic Sea, manned by a Russian crew, set sail from Finland under a Maltese flag on July 22. It was destined for Algeria and carried less than $2 million worth of timber.

Then a group of eight Russian and former Soviet hijackers boarded the ship on July 24. The ship's tracking device was disabled in the last days of July, as it passed through the English Channel into the Atlantic, and the ship disappeared. On Aug. 12, the Russian navy sent out a search party. A week later, Russia declared that the ship and its crew had been rescued.

But as details of the hijacking emerged, the tale got murkier, and Moscow's explanation does little to clear things up.

Why, with so many other ships carrying much more valuable cargo, would the hijackers target the Arctic Sea and its small load of timber?

Why didn't the ship send out a distress signal?

Why did Israeli President Shimon Peres pay a surprise visit to Russia a day after the ship was rescued?

Why did Russia wait so long to send its navy to find the ship?

And what did the brother of one of the alleged hijackers, Dmitri Bartenev, mean when he told Estonian TV on Aug. 24 that his brother and the other suspected pirates had been "set up ... They went to find work and ended up in a political conflict. Now they are hostage to some kind of political game"? Bartenev's lawyer tells TIME that his client was "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

There are also questions surrounding the Arctic Sea's rescue. On orders from the Kremlin, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov sent a completely disproportionate force, including destroyers and submarines, to look for the vessel. It took five days for them to find it, the Defense Ministry said, even though the Foreign Ministry later announced that it was fully aware of the Arctic Sea's coordinates the entire time.

To fly the alleged pirates and the crew back to Moscow - a group of only 19 men - Russia dispatched two enormous military-cargo planes. And then on their arrival, the ship's crew was detained along with the alleged hijackers for days of questioning, with no access to their families or the media.
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Even from the basic facts, without assumptions, it is clear that this was not just piracy. I've never seen anything like this. These are some of the most heavily policed waters in the world. You cannot just hide a ship there for weeks without government involvement.
says Mikhail Voitenko, editor of the Russian maritime journal Sovfrakht, which has been tracking unusual incidents on the high seas for decades.

According to Voitenko and other experts, a secret cargo could have been hidden on the ship during the two weeks it spent in Kaliningrad for repairs, just before it picked up its Finnish haul of timber.

"Personally, I don't care about any missiles," Voitenko tells TIME. "I care about what they're doing with those sailors."

There are many governments, however, that would be more concerned about a possible missile shipment, especially if it were destined for the Middle East. Chief among them is Israel. In recent years, the Israeli government has consistently raised alarms about Russia's plans to sell MiG-31 fighter planes to Syria and its construction of a nuclear-power station in southwestern Iran.

Negotiations with Moscow have been tough on these issues and relations often icy, as the Israeli President pointed out during his visit to Russia on Aug. 18, just as the mysteries behind the Arctic Sea's disappearance began to unfold.
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The most likely explanation is that the Israelis intercepted this cargo, which had been meant for Syria or Iran. They will now use the incident as a bargaining chip with Russia over weapons sales in the region, while allowing Russia to save face by taking its empty ship back home.
says Yulya Latynina, a prominent political commentator and radio host on Echo of Moscow, a station owned by state-controlled gas giant Gazprom.

But in an Aug. 18 statement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that Peres had discussed "the sale of Russian weapons and military hardware to countries hostile to Israel" with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, on that day during four hours of closed-door talks in the Russian city of Sochi.

According to the statement, Peres "stressed that Israel has concrete proof of Russian weapons being transferred to terrorist organizations by Iran and Syria, especially to Hamas and Hizballah." A spokeswoman for the Israeli President declined to elaborate on any connection with the Arctic Sea. In a parallel statement, the Kremlin did not mention weapons sales, saying after the meeting that "we more clearly and precisely understand each other's positions."

According to investigator Bastrykin, a full search of the vessel will be carried out when the ship arrives at a Russian port in the next few weeks. But observers don't expect any revelations.
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The versions we are getting from the Russian government do not fit into any logical parameters, and I don't think that will change. When people lie, they tend to lie consistently.
commentator Latynina says.

By netchicken: posted on 1-9-2009

The man who alerted told the world that cargo ship the Arctic Sea was missing has fled Russia fearing Moscow's revenge.

Russian piracy expert Mikhail Voitenko made it clear he believed the Russian state was involved in the bizarre disappearance of the ship last month.

He was in hiding in Turkey today after warnings he hinted were from his country's secret services.

There was speculation he may seek asylum in Britain, which has become the main asylum point for Russians who fall foul of the Kremlin.

'I received a call on Tuesday night,' he said. 'They said: 'Mikhail, we've all had enough of you'.'

Asked who the callers were, he said: 'Guess'.

He claimed was told: 'There are serious people who are behind this case and they are very upset'.

Voitenko refused to identify the callers, hinting however they were from special services and wanted to stifle what would be a potential scandal.

'Those who had been behind this want to take revenge on me. If they throw me in jail, there would be another scandal,' he said.

The twist comes amid speculation that the Arctic Sea was carrying a secret cargo of Russian missiles or nuclear materials intended for a Middle Eastern state as well its official load of timber.

Voitenko used his online maritime bulletin to alert the world to an apparent hijacking and disappearance of the vessel in late July.

He made clear he believed the Russian state was involved in the bizarre disappearance and recovery of the vessel two weeks later.

The Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea and its 15 crew members were seized by eight hijackers in Swedish waters on July 24 and freed by the Russian Navy off the west African coast on August 17.

Russia has failed to give a plausible version of what happened - including why the ship was hijacked if it was only carrying its low value timber cargo.

Nor has Moscow explained why the Russian crew were barred from speaking to relatives after its 'liberation'.

Voitenko, who took the first flight he could out of Russia, said he had been told to make himself scarce for at least three or four months, but he hinted he would seek an alternative bolt hole rather than remain in Turkey.

'I won't stay here long,' he said. 'I will go to some other place.'

Dozens of Russians wanted by the Russian authorities have moved to London in the past decade and there was speculation that Voitenko would seek a British visa.

Intelligence analyst Andrei Soldatov said the threat to Voitenko may have come from an illegal arms trading ring rather than the secret services.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/...
By netchicken: posted on 4-9-2009

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