“The configuration as is being presented in the media really looks like it could be used against Iran,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Russian television network RT, a portion of which was broadcasted on Friday.
Turkey has asked NATO for Patriot anti-missile systems after a series of mortar bombs and stray shells fired from Syria landed in Turkish territory, a request NATO readily accepted. Turkish and NATO officials have both insisted that the deployment is a purely defensive measure.
Three NATO countries, the US, Germany and the Netherlands, have agreed to send the Patriot systems for deployment in Turkey's south.
Iran, whose ties with Turkey have been strained due to differences over Syria, has harshly criticized the Patriot deployment. Iran's top commander, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, has claimed that the deployment is meant to cause a world war, while Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called the measure a “provocative” step.
Russia and Iran have both backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the country's 21-month-old crisis and spoken out against foreign intervention in Syria. Turkey, which has built close ties with both Russia and Iran over the past decade, has acted carefully not to target directly Iran or Russia in its criticism of international support for the Assad regime. Turkey's ties with its southeastern neighbor Iran have nonetheless been visibly strained lately due to the Syria row.
Ties with Russia, on the other hand, have been mostly spared. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Turkey early this month and suggested that Turkey and Russia could work on fresh ideas from Turkey on Syria despite their unresolved differences.
Russia not a ‘postman' for Assad
Lavrov said in the RT interview that countries in the region of Syria have been calling on Russia to order Assad to step down, without clarifying whether he was referring to Turkey.
“Some of the regional players asked us, ‘Why don't you tell President Assad to leave? We will arrange a safe haven for him',” Lavrov revealed, adding that if the countries in question were indeed serious about the request, they should have taken the issue directly to Assad. “Why do they use us as a postman? If President Assad is interested, this must be discussed directly with him,” he said.
Lavrov also insisted on clarifying the Russian stance, saying Moscow was “not in the business of regime change” in the interview, which is due to be released in full on Monday. Lavrov said Western governments, which tend to pursue a policy of rapid intervention, have missed many opportunities to actually help resolve the conflict in Syria. Russia, on the other hand, made several bids to find a peaceful solution to the violence, only to be undermined by those unwilling to respect the agreements, according to the foreign minister.