Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in the English Channel, on 21 OctoberImage copyright EPA
Image caption The Admiral Kuznetsov will join Russian vessels already off the Syrian coast

Russia has withdrawn a request for three warships to dock at the Spanish port of Ceuta for refuelling, the Spanish foreign ministry says.

It says the stopovers have therefore been cancelled.

Spain had been coming under pressure from Nato allies not to allow the refuelling of Russian warships bound for Syria.

A battle group has been sailing for the past week from Russia to the Mediterranean.

“Given the information which appeared on the possibility that these ships would participate in supporting military action in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested clarification from the embassy of the Russian Federation in Madrid,” the foreign ministry said in a statement to the BBC.

It added that permission had been granted in September for three Russian ships to dock in Ceuta between 28 October and 2 November. It said such stops for Russian naval vessels had taken places for years in Spanish ports.

But since it requested the clarification, the ministry said, the Russian embassy in Madrid had said it was withdrawing its request.

The Russian embassy has confirmed the withdrawal, but has given no further details.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The warships were expected to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar on Wednesday

Nato had earlier expressed concern that the ships could be used to help bomb civilians in Aleppo, but said the final decision on resupply rested with Spain.

Nato’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had warned that warships could be used to target civilians in Syria.

“We are concerned and I have expressed that very clearly about the potential use of this battle group to increase Russia’s ability and to be a platform for air strikes against Syria,” he told journalists on Tuesday.

The British Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, had said: “We’d be extremely concerned that any Nato member should consider assisting a Russian carrier group that might end up bombing Syrian civilians.

“On the contrary, Nato should be standing together.”

Led by Russia’s only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the naval group includes a nuclear-powered battle cruiser, two anti-submarine warships and four support vessels, probably escorted by submarines.

The battle group carries dozens of fighter bombers and helicopters and is expected to join about 10 other Russian vessels already off the Syrian coast.

Some 2,700 people have been killed or injured since the Russian-backed Syrian offensive started last month, according to activists.

Western leaders have said Russian and Syrian air strikes on Aleppo could amount to war crimes, an accusation rejected by Russia.

About 250,000 civilians who live in Aleppo have been trapped by the fighting. Moscow announced last week a “humanitarian pause” in attacks as part of a plan to allow civilians and fighters to leave the area.

Source: BBC