Russia has withdrawn a request to dock a warship in Malta, amid suspicions it was trying to purchase riot gear and gas canisters on the island, a report has claimed. 

The 7,570-tonne Severomorsk, with a crew of more than 400 is believed to be heading towards troubled Venezuela, the report in Buzzfeed on Thursday said.

The Maltese authorities have not yet reacted to the report but sources told Times of Malta the report was correct and the government had planned to bar the vessel from docking in the island if it forged ahead with the request.

Malta initially asked Russia for additional information about the ship’s operations and itinerary, but has since been told by US officials that the vessel was en route to Venezuela, Buzzfeed said.

Malta initially asked Russia for additional information about the ship’s operations

"This new incident has raised concerns among senior US and European government officials that Moscow is looking to boost its military presence in Venezuela, and, at the same time, flex its muscles in the Mediterranean."

A source told Times of Malta the Russians were planning to obtain the riot gear and gas canisters from a local supplier.

The claim comes just days after Times of Malta reported on April 16 that Malta had turned down a Russian request to use its airspace to fly military aircraft to Venezuela.

According to unnamed sources quoted in the international media reports on the matter, the Russian embassy in Malta did not take kindly to the rejections, raising concerns of possible retaliation.

Russia has emerged as embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s main backer since opposition leader Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself interim president in late January with the support of the United States and about 50 other states, including Malta and the rest of the EU.

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