Bloomberg News

Russia Says West Plans No-Fly Zone in Syria to Aid Rebels

January 16, 2012

(Updates with analyst comment from 11th paragraph.)

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Russia received information that members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and some Persian Gulf countries are preparing military intervention in Syria, the head of the Russian Security Council said.

Turkey, a NATO member, may play a key role, Nikolai Patrushev, who used to head the country’s intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, told Interfax in comments confirmed by his office. The U.S. and Turkey are working on a possible no-fly zone to protect Syrian rebels, Patrushev said.

“We are receiving information that NATO members and some Persian Gulf states, working under the ‘Libyan scenario’, intend to move from indirect intervention in Syria to direct military intervention,” the Russian security chief said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that the Arab League monitoring mission in Syria should end after failing to deter the government’s 10-month campaign of violence against dissidents. She spoke after meeting Qatari Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al Thani, a day after President Barack Obama held talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal at the White House.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry and NATO’s press service in Brussels didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Russia, which has Soviet-era ties with Syria, argues that United Nations-sanctioned bombing of Libya by NATO to protect civilians was used to bring about regime change and that Western governments are trying to repeat that scenario in Syria.

Iranian Alliance

The West is putting pressure on Syria because the country refuses to break off its alliance with Iran and not for repressing the opposition, said Patrushev, who served with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the Soviet-era KGB.

“This time, it won’t be France, the U.K. and Italy that will provide the main strike forces, but perhaps neighboring Turkey, which was until recently on good terms with Syria and is a rival of Iran with immense ambitions,” Patrushev said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected calls for his resignation on Jan. 10, accusing “foreign conspiracies” of aiming to divide his country. Unrest in Syria since March 2011 has claimed more than 5,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

The Arab League imposed sanctions on Syria on Nov. 27. Russia and China have blocked efforts by the U.S. and the European Union for the UN Security Council to condemn the crackdown.

Russia, which has a naval base in Syria and sells weapons to the Middle Eastern country, is more concerned that Islamic radicals may come to power, said Irina Zvyagelskaya, a Middle East analyst at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

Russian Fear

“Our fear is that Syria could collapse and extremist Islamic forces will seize control that no one will be pleased about,” Zvyagelskaya said in a phone interview today. “This could destabilize the entire region.”

While Russia would block any effort to seek UN approval for a no-fly zone in Syria thanks to its veto-wielding power as a permanent member of the Security Council, Western nations and their allies may form a coalition like they did for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, said the analyst.

“There are scenarios which different countries are looking at,” Zvyagelskaya said. “We have seen before what a no-fly zone means, it will be used to overthrow the regime.”

No-Fly Zone

Defectors from Assad’s army who have set up an opposition force called the Free Syrian Army called at the end of last year for a no-fly zone and two buffer areas with international backing as they seek to topple the Syrian government.

The group wants a buffer zone in the north, on the Turkish- Syrian border, and another in the south near the border with Jordan to help them bring the fight closer to Assad, Riad al As’ad, a former Syrian colonel who leads the Free Syrian Army, said in a phone interview from Turkey on Nov. 18.

Russia may have obtained intelligence about Western military plans in Syria or may be sending a signal that it will actively oppose any such efforts, said Fyodor Lukyanov, an analyst at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow.

“After the Libyan experience, Russia will do everything to stop this scenario from happening,” he said in a phone interview. “Syria is much more important than Libya from Russia’s point of view.”

--With assistance from Ilya Khrennikov in Moscow, Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon, Patrick Donahue in Berlin and Steve Bryant in Ankara. Editors: Paul Abelsky, Leon Mangasarian

To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net; Ilya Arkhipov in ? ?????? at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net


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