MOSCOW, December 7 (RIA Novosti) – The deployment of Patriot air-defense systems at the Turkish-Syrian border means NATO is getting involved in the Syrian conflict, Russia’s envoy to NATO said on Friday.
The alliance announced on Tuesday it would deploy Patriot air defense systems in NATO-member Turkey along the border with Syria.
“This is the first step showing that NATO is after all becoming involved in the conflict and we do not rule out that this involvement will deepen as a result of some incident or provocation,” Alexander Grushko said.
“This system [Patriot] is designed to fight against warplanes and has an anti-missile capability. However, taking realistic scenarios into consideration, it is difficult to believe that Syria is interested in ratcheting up tensions in the region.”
Russia is convinced that the Syrian conflict cannot be resolved through the use of military force, Grushko said.
He also said Russia has no evidence to confirm that the Syrian authorities are preparing to use chemical weapons against the opposition.
“The Russian Federation is naturally concerned by the situation pertaining to chemical weapons. But to reiterate, we have no information showing that there are any intentions to use chemical weapons,” he said when asked to comment on a recent statement from US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“I think there is no question that we remain very concerned, very concerned that as the opposition advances, in particular on Damascus, that the regime might very well consider the use of chemical weapons,” Panetta said on Wednesday.
“The intelligence that we have causes serious concerns that this is being considered.”
Several Patriot batteries will be provided by Germany, the Netherlands and, possibly, the United States, although the exact details of the deployment and the number of batteries are still to be determined by NATO.
NATO member Turkey formally requested Patriot missiles from the military alliance after weeks of talks with NATO allies about how to shore up security on its 900-kilometer (560 mile) border with Syria.
Turkey has opened fire with artillery several times in recent months across its border with Syria in retaliation for shelling from Syria that killed five Turkish civilians in October. It has also provided shelter to refugees fleeing the violence in Syria, and has been one of President Bashar al-Assad’s harshest critics during the almost 17-month revolt against his rule.
Tensions between Turkey and Syria flared dangerously this summer after Damascus shot down a Turkish fighter that had violated its airspace. Turkey threatened retaliation if there was any repeat of the incident, although it admitted its plane had mistakenly strayed into Syrian airspace.
Russia has repeatedly voiced concern about plans to deploy Patriot missiles on Turkey’s border with Syria, although Moscow avoided directly criticizing Turkey.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday reassured Turkey that Syria is too busy dealing with its internal conflict to plan any attack on its neighbors.
The UN has estimated that nearly 40,000 have died since the violence began in March 2011.