NATO and its allies are plotting "direct military intervention" in Syria, Russia's security apparatus claimed yesterday, as it hit back at Western criticism of its support for the Assad regime.
Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Kremlin's security council, said he had seen intelligence indicating plans for a military incursion were well advanced.
"We are getting information that Nato members and some Persian Gulf states, operating according to the Libya scenario, intend to move from indirect intervention in Syrian affairs to direct military intervention," he said.
"This time it is true that the main strikes forces will not be provided by France, the UK or Italy, but possibly by neighbouring Turkey, which was, until recently, on good terms with Syria and is a rival of Iran with immense ambitions."
America and Turkey were even now possibly already refining options for a no-fly zone that would allow armed Syrian opposition fighters to mass in the designated areas, he added.
Russia has come under pressure at the UN to soften its opposition to sanctions or other action against the Assad regime.
Mr Patrushev claimed that the real reason Syria was coming under inter- national pressure to end a crackdown on the opposition was geopolitical.
"The plan is to punish Damascus not so much for repressing the opposition as for its unwillingness to sever its friendly relations with Tehran," he said.
Carmen Romero, a Nato spokeswoman, denied Mr Patrushev's claims. "There is no discussion of a Nato role with respect to Syria," she said.
Turkey has openly discussed the possibility of creating a buffer zone inside Syria for refugees. The prime minister of Qatar also discussed Syria with US vice-president Joe Biden and Tom Donilon, the White House's national security adviser, in Washington on Wednesday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)