Standoff with NATO looms

The kidnapping of Russian nationals on Monday is drawing Moscow deeper into the Syrian crisis, which is becoming increasingly internationalised as battle lines get more sharply defined between foreign supporters of the government and the armed opposition.

The foreign ministry of Russia has confirmed that two of its citizens, V.V. Gorelov, and Abdessattar, who holds dual Russian-Syrian nationality, were kidnapped from the coastal city of Latakia. An Italian was also abducted. All three worked in the Syria-owned Hmisho steel plant.

“We are now actively engaged and all the necessary steps are being taken in Syria, and in other countries that may have an impact on the situation,” said Sergei Lavrov the Russian foreign minister. The kidnappers have demanded a ransom, but the abductions may have been triggered more by political motives rather than criminal intent.

Haitham al-Maleh, a member of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces told Russia Today that his group identified Russians as legitimate targets because Moscow actively supported the government of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. “Russia, like Iran, supports the Assad regime with weapons and ammunition, as well as in the political arena, so the citizens of these countries are legitimate targets for militants in Syria," he asserted.

Mr. Maleh said that kidnapping of civilians was not a violation of the Geneva agreements, which, in his view, did not prohibit attacks on non-combatants who were cooperating with enemy armed forces. The Syrian opposition has also kidnapped Ukrainian journalist Ankhar Kochneva near Homs in early October. The abductors are now threatening to kill the journalist unless a $ 50 million ransom is paid.

Analysts point out that there is body of opinion building up in Russia that argues that the kidnapping of the Russian nationals provides legitimate grounds for Moscow’s forceful intervention in Syria.

The hostility shown to Russia inside Syria by the opposition appears only one part of a bigger story, which has a larger international dimension. NATO forces at Ankara’s request are deploying Patriot missiles in Turkey, apparently, not far from the Syrian border. The Russians have slammed this move, and reinforced their opposition with the deployment in Syria of the state-of-the art Iskander missiles, which, apparently cannot be downed by any known anti-missile system.

The Russian move mirrors the beginning of a standoff between Washington and Moscow -- faintly echoing an era when rival missile deployments symbolised the Cold War chill between the two. Iran has also reacted furiously at the deployment of Patriot missiles, and the impending presence of these weapons seems to have reinforced an already existing dynamic of bringing Moscow and Tehran closer.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was in Moscow earlier this week. He told Iran’s Press TV that the Russian position towards Syria had not changed — a rebuttal of western media claims that Moscow’s ties with Damascus were cooling off.

Observers say that long pending transfer of the “game-changing” S-300 missiles by Russia to Iran would be one solid yardstick to measure the establishment of a close strategic relationship between the two. Iran’s armed forces chief, Hassan Firouzabadi had earlier shared Moscow’s concerns towards the deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey, which, he said, was "a black mark on the world map, and is meant to cause a world war”.

While external tensions simmered, a new crisis was brewing on the regional horizon. The troubled exit in droves of Palestinian refugees from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which has been attacked, has generated a fresh debate on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. In response to the fighting between armed fighters and government forces in Yarmouk, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has sought international support for bringing his conflict affected people to the Palestinian territories. Israel has for long rejected the right of return to displaced Palestinians, which is one of the core items on final status talks in the Israel-Palestine peace process.

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