Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin AP 30/08/2010
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Photo by AP
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A military strike of Iran's nuclear facilities would bring about "catastrophic" consequences, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wrote in a widely circulated article on Monday, published ahead of an upcoming presidential vote.


Putin's comments weren't the first time Russian officials expressed opposition to the possibility of military action in Iran, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov saying last week that "any possible military scenario against Iran will be catastrophic for the region and for the whole system of international relations."

"Therefore I hope Israel understands all these consequences ... and they should also consider the consequences of such action for themselves," Gatilov said at a news conference.

In an article published on Monday, the Russian PM said that his country was "worried about the growing threat of a strike on Iran," adding: "If it happens, the consequences will be truly catastrophic. Their real scale is impossible to imagine."

He said that the international community must acknowledge Iran's right to conduct uranium enrichment in exchange for placing the program under close supervision by the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran has insisted that its controversial uranium enrichment program is aimed at producing energy and medical isotopes, but the West believes it's a cover for developing nuclear weapons.

"The West has gotten carried away trying to 'punish' some nations," Putin said. "It reaches out for sanctions or even a military club at the drop of a hat."

He said the Western emphasis on using force could encourage more countries to seek nuclear weapons in a bid to protect themselves: "If I have a nuclear bomb in my pocket, they wouldn't touch me because it would cost them. And those lacking a bomb should wait a 'humanitarian' intervention."

Referring to Russia's longstanding rejection of UN action on the Syrian crisis, Putin said the West had backed the Arab Spring to advance its interests in the region, and that instead of promoting democracy the revolts had given rise to religious extremism.

The lengthy article, Putin defended the Russia-China decision earlier this month to veto a United Nations resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar Assad's crackdown on protests, saying that Moscow wouldn't allow a replay of what happened in Libya, where NATO airstrikes helped Libya's rebels oust Muammar Gadhafi's regime.

"Learning from that bitter experience, we are against any UN Security Council resolutions that could be interpreted as a signal for military interference in domestic processes in Syria," Putin said in the article published in Moscow News.

He said that any attempt to launch military action without UN approval would undermine the world body's role and hurt global security.

"I strongly hope that the United States and other nations will learn from the sad experience and won't try to resort to a forceful scenario in Syria," Putin said. "I can't understand that bellicose itch."

Activists estimate that close to 7,500 people have been killed in the 11 months since the Assad regime's brutal crackdown on dissent began.

Putin said both the government and opposition forces must pull out of populated areas to end bloodshed, adding that the Western refusal to demand that from Assad's opponents was "cynical."

Syria is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East. Moscow has maintained close ties with Damascus since the Cold War, when Syria was led by the current leader's father, Hafez Assad.

Putin said that Russian companies have lost ground in the countries engulfed by the Arab Spring uprisings and are being replaced by firms from the nations that backed the regime change.

"That raises the thought that the tragic events to some extent had been driven not by concern about human rights, but a desire by some to redistribute markets," he said. "We mustn't watch that with an Olympian calm."

Putin also accused the U.S. of using non-governmental organizations as an instrument of "soft power" aimed at destabilizing regimes.

"It's necessary to draw a clear distinction between the freedom of speech, normal political activities on the one hand, and illegal instruments of soft power on the other," he said, adding that U.S. attempts to interfere in Russian elections have strained ties.

The statement follows Putin's earlier claims that the U.S. was behind the protests against his rule.

In Monday's article, Putin again criticized the U.S.-led plans for a NATO missile defense system in Europe, saying it's aimed against Russian nuclear forces.

"The Americans are obsessed with the idea of ensuring absolute invulnerability for themselves, which is utopian and unfeasible from both technological and geopolitical points of view," he said. "An absolute invulnerability for one means an absolute vulnerability for all the others. It's impossible to accept such a prospect."