Ship with Syrian helicopters raises Russian flag

A Russian ship that tried to deliver repaired attack helicopters to Syria raised Russia's tricolour flag on Monday as it awaited orders in a naval port to possibly make a second attempt, a report said.

The Alaed cargo vessel dropped anchor at the main base of Russia's Northern Fleet near the city of Murmansk on Sunday after being forced to turn back when its British insurer dropped coverage on learning of the mission's true intent.

The Alaed has raised the Russian flag after sailing under the colours of the tiny Caribbean island nation of Curacao for apparent tax reasons, the Interfax news agency reported.

Analysts said the move should help the Alaed avoid security inspections that come when sailing under the flag of a third country.

The Russian operator that leased the ship for the highly controversial delivery said on Sunday that it was "awaiting further instructions" from the contractors -- whom it did not name -- about which way to sail next.

The Alaed was originally scheduled to head to Russia's Far East after returning from Syria.

But a diplomatic source told Interfax on Friday that the ship would probably make a second delivery attempt in the accompaniment of at least one other non-naval vessel in the coming days or weeks.

Russia has vehemently denied US accusations that it was supplying weapons to Syria that could be used by the ruling regime against the armed opposition in the country's bloody 16-month conflict.

Moscow says Soviet-era Mi-25 helicopters are being returned to Syria after being repaired at a factory in its Kaliningrad exclave under a contract that could not be breached.

It says its other shipments consist almost exclusively of air defence systems that can help protect Syria's border against an air invasion.

Western powers have stepped up their calls for Moscow to join their own arms embargo of the regime despite Russia's reluctance to break ties with what had been its closest and most strategically important ally in the Middle East.

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