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As the Arctic Sea remains off the coast of the Canary Islands, questions about its cargo deepen.
A senior figure close to Israeli intelligence confirmed that version of the events to the BBC in early September, on condition of anonymity.
Russia’s foreign ministry has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Iran has long been seeking to buy the S-300 from Russia, and a sale was agreed about two years ago. But Russia has held off on delivering the system — which could be used to counter an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations — either because of U.S. or Israeli bargaining, or its own concerns over Iranian militarization.
It’s a topic that figures highly in Russo-Israeli discussions. Israeli President Shimon Peres, visiting Russia the day after the Arctic Sea was found, said he had won a pledge from Medvedev to reconsider the sale during four hours of talks in Sochi. During that meeting, Peres said that Israel would not attack Iran, Medvedev said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that aired Sunday.
Medvedev also confirmed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a secret visit to Moscow on Sept. 7, in the wake of the Arctic Sea scandal. He gave no details, but sources have told Israeli media that the visit was designed to further deter Russia from following through on sales of the S-300 to Iran.
Some questions have been answered, but so many remain. What was the Arctic Sea really carrying? If it was weapons, was the shipment approved by Russian authorities or not? Why the bizarre pirate cover, when the ship could simply have been turned around?
Those who know the answers aren’t talking. And those who are talking don’t know the answers. “I don’t know why the ship hasn’t been taken in anywhere,” Sergei Kurashin, a manager at Solchart, the company that ultimately owns the Arctic Sea, said by telephone from Helsinki. “You’ll have to ask the Russian fleet and prosecutors.” The company has had no contact with the four crew who remain on the ship, he said. Eleven crew members were airlifted off the ship when it was rescued and flown to a secret Moscow hotel, where they were questioned and then released to their families under orders not to speak to the press.
The accused pirates, ethnic Russians who are residents of Russia, Estonia and Latvia, remain locked up in Lefortovo, Moscow’s high-security prison.
“They’re just sitting there,” said Omar Akhmedov, a lawyer for Dmitry Savin, one of the alleged pirates. "There's no investigation, they're not being questioned. I would say everything happening is a violation of the law."
Akhmedov maintains that his client and the other alleged pirates, four of whom have served time in jail, were undergoing navigational training for an ecological mission, when their rubber boat began taking on water and sought refuge on the Arctic Sea. They have since been caught up as pawns in what he believes to be a commercial dispute or insurance scam.
Meanwhile, the Arctic Sea remains adrift off the coast of the Canary Islands and may never return home. Its owner, a Maltese subsidiary 100 percent owned by Solchart, says the company stands on the brink of bankruptcy. Eight alleged pirates are sitting in a Moscow jail cell. And comments by top Russian officials, never keen to talk about the issue in the first place, have slowed to a whisper. As with so many Russian scandals, many are being to wonder if the whole truth will ever be known.