A handout picture made available by Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian people waving their national flags in Homs province on Aug. 19.(Photo: SANA/EPA)
(USA TODAY) -- As U.S. ships and British warplanes neared the shores of its last remaining ally in the Middle East, Russia warned again Tuesday that any military intervention in Syria would have "catastrophic consequences" for the region.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said that launching a military strike without seeking approval from the United Nations Security Council would cause "new suffering and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa," according to the Russian TV station RT.
Lukashevich said the USA and other world leaders should "demonstrate prudence (and) strict observance of international law, especially the fundamental principles of the U.N. charter."
Russia has vowed to veto any Security Council attempts to approve a military attack on Syria, and it is arming Syria as well, which is why the United States is considering a unilateral attack with the help of the United Kingdom and other nations.
Russia seeks "to dilute U.S. power in the Middle East' and fears that regime change in Syria could lead to Western adventurism against Iran and even the Russian homeland, said Ariel Cohen, a Russia expert at the Heritage Foundation. Russian leaders are likely to increase aid to Syria in case of a U.S. strikes, and to take action elsewhere in the region that could hurt U.S. interests, Cohen said.
The U.S. has put off a meeting that had been scheduled for Wednesday in The Hague between senior diplomats from the United States and Russia as Washington mulls its response to what it says was a chemical weapons attack by the regime of President Bashar Assad, a senior State department official tells CBS News.
A Russian cargo plane Tuesday delivered 20 tons of food aid to Syria's Mediterranean port city of Latakia, near Moscow's only Mediterranean naval base in Tartus, RT reported, citing the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry. The aircraft will also evacuate 180 citizens of former Soviet countries, including 100 Russians, the ministry said.
"The Russians are extremely mad and there's sort of pre-war frenzy in Moscow," Cohen said. "I think in reality their options are limited but dangerous."
While the Russians are unlikely to oppose U.S. forces in the fields, Cohen listed other things they can do:
- The Russians have already promised to send Syria S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missiles that have a range of almost 100 miles and would reach deep inside Israel. Israel has said it would eliminate such a threat to its military and civilian aircraft on Israeli soil.
- The Russians could also send Assad their supersonic P800 long-range anti-ship missile, which is capable of sinking NATO ships with a single strike. U.S. officials reported that Israel attempted to destroy such missiles in Latakia during a July 5 air strike, though it was unclear if the strike was successful, according to the Guardian newspaper.
- The Russians could expand sales to Iran of weapons and nuclear technology that has both nuclear and civilian functions. Iran's nuclear program is considered a threat by Iran's rivals Israel and Gulf Arab states.
- Russian could pursue plans to deploy a large permanent naval task force and expand its number of bases in the Mediterranean.
The Egyptian military has offered Russia a military base in recent months, and is seeking expanded relations with Russia for weapons and wheat sales, Cohen said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the U.S. and its allies are approaching Syria like they did before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Associated Press reported.
"The use of force without a sanction of the U.N. Security Council is a crude violation of the international law," he said.
Syrian President Bashar Assad told a Russian newspaper that any military campaign against Syria would fail.
Assad said superpowers such as the USA "can launch wars but they cannot win them." And if the U.S. attacks Syria, he said, it will experience "what it suffered in all its wars from Vietnam until now -- failure."
Contributing: The Associated Press
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Oren Dorell, USA TODAY