Putin Warns Against NATO Plan on Visit
Published: December 5, 2012 (Issue # 1738)
MOSCOW ŚáPresident Vladimir Putin used his first known trip ináalmost two months toáboost economic ties with Turkey andáslam aáNATO plan toáplace surface-to-air missiles onáthe Turkish-Syrian border.
Theáone-day visit toáIstanbul also seemed toárefute rumors that Putin is suffering fromápoor health. Speculation swirled after theáKremlin canceled aáslew ofáforeign trips, including this one, ináOctober andáNovember.
Putin used theáoccasion toácriticize aáplan toáuse Patriot missiles toáprotect Turkey against airborne attacks fromáits war-torn neighbor Syria, such as aárocket strike that killed five ináOctober.
Speaking atáa news conference, Putin described that attack as anáôaccidentö andásaid Syria is ôobviously ináno position toáattack its neighbors,ö Interfax reported Monday.
Russia traditionally views foreign anti-missile batteries near its borders as aásecurity threat, andáPutin warned that theámissiles could lead toáescalating tensions between Turkey andáSyria.
ôYou know, as they say, if thereĺs aágun hanging onáthe wall atáthe beginning ofáthe play, byáthe end it will absolutely be fired, andáwhy do we need additional shots fired onáthe border?ö he said.
NATO foreign ministers are expected toáapprove Turkeyĺs request foráthe Patriot missile batteries atáa meeting onáTuesday ináBrussels.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen dismissed Russian fears ofáan escalation.
ôThis is aásolely defensive measure that will be de-escalating,ö he told reporters ináBrussels. ôThe [missilesĺ] purpose is toáensure theáeffective protection ofápeople onáTurkish territory. ů Theáessence ofáthe alliance is toáprotect.ö
Some described Putinĺs visit toáTurkey as aálast attempt toáderail theáplan.
Alexander Shumilin, aáMiddle East expert atáthe Institute for U.S. andáCanadian Studies, said Putin likely traveled toáIstanbul with aáserious proposal, possibly including theáevacuation ofáSyrian President Bashar Assad toáRussia ináexchange foráTurkey rejecting theámissile plan.
ôIf Putin didnĺt have any proposals foráinfluencing theásituation ináSyria, why would he go toádiscuss this question with Erdogan?ö Shumilin said Monday byátelephone, referring toáTurkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
There are ôvery persistentö rumors about Assad being evacuated toáMoscow, he said. ôThis is one ofáthose cases when theárumors have aástrong foundation.ö
Russia has used its UN Security Council veto power toáswat down calls foráinternational sanctions onáthe Syrian government. It has also said it would honor existing weapons contracts.
But Putin denied that Russia was aáôstaunch defenderö ofáthe Syrian regime, saying theáRussian government was worried about repeating ôrecent mistakes,ö aávague reference toáLibya.
Anáestimated 40,000 Syrians have died since mass anti-government protests began ináMarch 2011 andálater evolved intoáa civil war.