MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia emphasized its opposition on Friday to NATO’s potential deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey near the Syrian border, which the Western alliance says would increase security and Moscow argues would undermine it.
NATO is considering the request for the surface-to-air missiles that alliance member Turkey has made because of fears of a spillover from the civil war in Syria.
As a non-member, Russia has no say in the alliance’s decision, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s opposition in a telephone conversation with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Lavrov “affirmed Russia’s concern about plans to increase military capabilities in the region”, the Foreign Ministry said.
It said he reiterated Russia’s proposal for the establishment of a direct line of communication between Ankara and Damascus with the aim of avoiding incidents between the neighbors.
“The main concern is the more weapons there are, the greater the risk that they will be used,” Lavrov said before the phone call, speaking at a news conference following talks in Moscow with Bangladesh’s foreign minister, Dipu Moni.
The West has criticized Russia, as well as China, for vetoing three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end a conflict activists say has killed more than 38,000 people since protests began in March 2011.
Russia denies trying to prop up Assad, whose nation has been a buyer of its weapons and hosts a naval supply facility that is Moscow’s only military base outside the ex-Soviet Union.
Russia and NATO also sparred over the possible missile deployment on Thursday, when Lavrov’s ministry said it would “not foster stability” and Rasmussen said the alliance would “do what it takes to defend our ally Turkey”.
Rasmussen called Lavrov on Friday and in the “interest of transparency, set out NATO position on (the potential deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey) - defensive only,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on Twitter.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Ankara: “Russia knows very well this is a defence system.”
“No country, especially Russia, should need to express concern over this subject,” he told reporters.
“Turkey has a 910 km border with Syria which is currently experiencing heavy clashes ... Turkey will take all necessary measures to protect the security of the country and its own people, this is a step based entirely on a defensive goal.”
Before the telephone conversation, NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the potential deployment “would serve as a deterrent to possible threats and as such would contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along NATO’s south-eastern border”.
Lavrov said it could have the opposite effect.
He told a news conference that Russia understood that no one intended to drag the alliance into the Syrian crisis ”but ... in the military field, what is important is not intentions, but potential.
“And when potential increases, the risks grow,” he said.
Romero said Turkey has made clear the deployment would “in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operations”.
Russia has stated it will not allow a repeat of what occurred last year in Libya, where it accuses NATO of overstepping the mandate of a U.N. Security Council resolution permitting military intervention to protect civilians and using it to help rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi.
Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, Sebastian Moffett and Jonathan Burch; Editing by Alison Williams