Nato is planning “direct military intervention” in Syria, a top Russian official has claimed, suggesting the alliance may set up a no-fly zone and dispatch Turkish troops to the troubled country.
The head of Russia’s security council said he had seen intelligence indicating plans for a military incursion were well advanced.
“We are getting information that Nato members and some Persian Gulf States, operating according to the Libya scenario, intend to move from indirect intervention in Syrian affairs to direct military intervention,” Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Kremlin security body said in an interview published in Russia’s Kommersant newspaper on Thursday.
“This time it is true that the main strikes forces will not be provided by France, the UK or Italy, but possibly by neighbouring Turkey which was until recently on good terms with Syria and is a rival of Iran with immense ambitions.” America and Turkey were even now possibly already refining options for a no-fly zone that would allow armed Syrian opposition fighters to mass in the designated areas, he added.
Mr Patrushev, a Kremlin hawk who used to run the FSB security service, the Russian successor agency to the KGB, went on to claim that the real reason Syria was coming under so much international pressure to end a brutal crackdown on the opposition was largely geopolitical.
“Syria has not become an object of interest for a new coalition of the willing in itself,” he said. “The plan is to punish Damascus not so much for repressing the opposition as for its unwillingness to sever its friendly relations with Tehran.”
The Kremlin, a close ally of Damascus since the Soviet-era, has doggedly resisted Western attempts to impose meaningful sanctions on Syria in the United Nations and has offered the regime moral support by adopting parts of its one-sided rhetoric.
It has made it clear it still feels cheated by the West’s manoeuvring on Libya last year. Moscow chose to abstain in a crucial United Nations vote, effectively allowing a no-fly zone to be introduced. It later angrily accused the West of exploiting the vote to bring about regime change however and has said it will not be duped in the United Nations a second time.
Moscow has a naval supply and maintenance base at the Syrian port of Tartus, its only military footprint in the Mediterranean and one which has been gradually upgraded. Earlier this month, a Russian naval force led by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier made a three-day port trip to Tartus in an apparent signal of support for Bashar Assad.