Russia warns of Syria terror threat
Russia warned on Wednesday that "terrorist organisations" could arise in Syria if President Bashar al-Assad's regime fell under pressure from ongoing street protests.
The comments marked the latest salvo in a heated war of words between Russia and the West over its traditional regional ally -- a country listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States.
The foreign ministry's new challenges and threats department chief Ilya Rogachyov said Western military intervention was threatening to create new hotbeds of extremist activity in a region already shaken by war in Iraq.
"If the Syrian government is unable to hold on to power, there is a high probability that radicals and representatives of terrorist organisations will become entrenched," the Interfax news agency quoted the top foreign ministry official as saying.
Russia has been attracting increasing international anger over its continued support for Syria despite a government crackdown on protests that the United Nations estimates to have killed around 2,600 people.
Moscow has refused to support Western sanctions against Assad's regime and argued that equal pressure should also be placed on the protesters who refuse to engage Assad in direct talks.
President Dmitry Medvedev last week also said that some of those taking part in the Syrian demonstration had links to "terrorists".
Russia intends to send a group of senators to Syria in the coming days to come with its own ground report and has previously vowed to continue supplying arms to Assad's government.
The standoff highlights growing tensions that began nearly a decade ago when US-led forces invaded Iraq and escalated further with this year's NATO-led campaign in Libya.
Moscow enjoyed wide authority in the region in the Soviet era and has watched with increasing alarm as Western pressure and a public frustration helped push veteran regional leaders from power.
Rogachyov cautioned that it was premature to say whether new governments such as the one being set up in Libya would be able to survive and ensure security and peace.
"Strange things are happening in Libya," Interfax quoted Rogachyov as saying during a lecture in Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg.
"Weapons storages have been burgled and no one knows what happened," he said. "We can say with a high degree of probability that the weapons fell into the hands of the regional department of Al-Qaeda."
Russia heavily criticised the NATO-led campaign against Moamer Kadhafi's forces after abstaining on a UN vote that authorised the action.
© 2011 AFP