• Lavrov's line feeds Assad's campaign to deligitimise the rebels (Photo: CSIS)

Russia: EU and US want war with Syria

19.01.12 @ 13:15

  1. By Andrew Rettman and Nikolaj Nielsen

BRUSSELS - Russia has accused Nato countries of trying to start a war with Syria and foment unrest in Iran - claims backed up by some Western security analysts.

Its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov at a press briefing in Moscow on Wednesday (18 January) said: "Our partners in the West are in fact discussing a no-fly zone ... There are other ideas being realised, including humanitarian convoys, in the hope they could provoke a response from [Syrian] government forces."

He added - without naming names - that foreign powers are supplying arms to Syrian "extremists."

He also noted the EU and US are keen to remove a line from a Russian-draft UN resolution on Syria which forbids use of outside force. "If someone conceives the idea of using force at any cost - and I've already heard calls for sending some Arab troops to Syria - we are unlikely to be able to prevent this ... But this should be done on their own initiative and should remain on their conscience. They won't get any authorisation from the [UN] Security Council."

On Iran, he said the EU's soon-to-be-announced oil embargo is an attempt to foment revolution.

"[It] is really calculated to have a suffocating effect on the Iranian economy and on the situation of the Iranian population, in an apparent attempt to provoke discontent," the minister said.

He warned that a Western military strike on Iran could trigger war between the Shia Muslim power and its Sunni Muslim rival, Saudi Arabia: "[It would] pour fuel on the already smouldering fire of the Sunni-Shia conflict and cause a chain reaction. I don't know where it would stop."

With Lavrov confirming that Russian arms traders are still shipping guns to Syria, its Cold-War-era ally, the Kremlin has little moral authority on the subject. Its line also supports Syria's campaign to delegitimise rebels by talk of an external plot.

A number of Western commentators from the security establishment have in recent months aired similar views, however.

Writing in the US journal American Conservative on 19 December, former CIA officer Philip Giraldi said the anti-Syria war effort has already begun.

"Unmarked Nato warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi's arsenals as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council ... Iskenderum is also the seat of the Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian National Council. French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and US Spec-Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence."

Another former CIA officer, Robert Baer in June last year told EUobserver: "We've taken sides in the Middle East. We've taken sides with Israel and with the Sunnis, from the US to the Dutch and the French."

He added: "I'm still talking to my Syrian contacts and they are quite convinced that weapons are coming in [to the opposition] not just from the Sunnis in Lebanon and through Iraq but also from Turkey."

For his part, retired MI6 officer Alastair Crooke, who runs an NGO in Beirut, told this website Syrian exile groups in France and the US are feeding Western media with uncorroborated stories of atrocities and false accounts of grassroots revolt.

"Syrians want change. But whether Westerners believe it or not, most people in Damascus, in Aleppo - the middle classes, the merchant classes and the [sectarian] minorities - believe [President] Assad is the only person who can bring in reforms," he said.

A poll by the YouGov Siraj institute in December said 55 percent of Syrians do not want Assad to go because they fear civil war.