FEATURE | Russian warships in Spanish North Africa

Marshal Ustinov

There has been considerable speculation over the mid-November presence, in the Spanish North African colony of Ceuta, of a Russian naval task group (TG) on a refuelling, and rest and recreation visit. The TG consisted of the guided missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov, the support tanker Dubna and the fleet tug SB-406.

Russian warships were fairly regular callers at Ceuta between 2010 and 2016, but Madrid subsequently curtailed the arrangement, following protests from the NATO high command. Of particular concern to NATO was the participation of some of the vessels in operations in support of the regime of Syrian President Assad.

On the face of it, it is surprising that long-established NATO, and EU member Spain would welcome the renewed presence, in one of its six North African territories, of Russian warships, particularly as criticism of Ceuta’s role in mass irregular migration from sub-Saharan Africa is already attracting unwanted international scrutiny of the Spanish enclave.

Some analysts note, though, that such visits might well provide rare intelligence collection opportunities for NATO.

Trevor Hollingsbee

Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.