These are not the first Russian vessels to visit the North African city. Both El Pueblo de Ceuta and rival La Verdad de Ceuta confirm that Russian warships have visited the port a total of 9 times in 2015, including the Shabalin/Bubnov call, and 13 times in 2014. The previous visit was by the Severomorsk, an Udaloy-class anti-submarine warfare destroyer.
From what I’ve been able to gather, the partial list of ships and port calls is as follows:
2015: 9 port calls
- 21 to 23 June 2015. Landing ship Alexander Shabalin, medium oiler Ivan Bubnov.
- 07 to 10 April 2015. ASW Destroyer Severomorsk, medium tanker Dubna, salvage tug SB-460.
- 09 to 12 February 2015. ASW Frigate Yaroslav Mudry, oiler Kola.
2014: 13 port calls
- 21 to 24 December 2014. ASW Frigate Vice Admiral Kulakov, salvage tug SB-406
- 18 November 2014. Landing ship
- 22 October 2014. Landing ship
- 20 August 2014. ASW Frigate Yaroslav Mudry.
- 29 June 2014. ASW Destroyer Admiral Levchenko.
- 16 June 2014. Landing ships Olenegorskiy Gornyak and Georgiy Pobedonosets.
- 28 April 2014. ASW Frigate Vice Admiral Kulakov, medium tankers Dubna and Sergei Osipov.
- 02 January 2014. Landing ship Alexander Shavalin and salvage tug
2010 to 2013: 31 port calls in total
There is nothing particularly sinister about these visits; Russian warships stop in many ports while on duty. They have been regularly visiting Ceuta since 2010 at a relatively constant rate of 10 to 15 port calls per year. The city fathers are happy to have 2,000 sailors visit their city and spend their pay in pursuit of “shore leave”, not to mention the money made in fuelling and victualing the ships.
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t even be newsworthy. But we are not living in normal times and our relations with Russia can hardly be described as “warm.” So there are a few points that bear mentioning:
- The Straits of Gibraltar are a vital shipping route and having Russian warships a familiar sight in those waters isn’t something NATO should be happy about. In the admittedly far-fetched case of a conflict breaking out with Russia over Ukraine or the Baltic States, Russian warships would be well-positioned to launch an attack on the British naval and air facilities at Gibraltar without warning. Ceuta is only 17 miles (27 kilometers) from Gibraltar;
- It is also hypocritical and particularly unhelpful for the Spanish government to protest the port calls of British warships at the British naval base of Gibraltar while welcoming the Russian Navy with open arms to Ceuta and at the same time applying sanctions against Russia for their aggression in Ukraine. It leaves one wondering what kind of ally Spain would make in the case of an expansion of the NATO-Russia stand-off to include “little green men” in the Baltics states…which are full NATO allies and subject to Article 5.
That is undoubtedly why Spanish media on the peninsula don’t usually report the arrivals of Russian ships. There are a few mentions, but the only regular notices come from the two local dailies cited at the beginning of this article.
 “Dos nuevos buques de la armada rusa se avituallan en la ciudad,” El Pueblo de Ceuta, 21 June 2015
 “Dos buques de la Armada rusa realizarán una escala en el puerto a partir del sábado,” La Verdad de Ceuta, 18 June 2015