MOSCOW (Reuters) - NATO could be dragged into a full-scale war in Libya, like those being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia’s ambassador to the military alliance was quoted as saying on Saturday.
NATO has control of an arms embargo on Libya and agreed this week to assume command of a no-fly zone over its territory but Washington has been left in control of conducting air strikes against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s ground forces.
The United States hopes to hand over control of the air strikes as soon as possible and said on Friday it expected NATO to take command of it, although it was still being discussed.
“Just as we forecast, NATO is being drawn deeper and deeper into war in North Africa,” Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, told Interfax news agency.
“The statements we are hearing today from NATO members and the alliance on the whole could draw this bloc into a full-scale operation on Libyan territory, which means essentially the U.S. and its closest allies could be drawn into a third war in addition to those in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Russia backed U.N. sanctions against Gaddafi and his government earlier this month but abstained in a Security Council vote that authorized a no-fly zone, allowing armed intervention by a Western coalition.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has expressed concern over the possibility of civilian deaths and told U.S. President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation earlier this week that such casualties had to be prevented.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia’s paramount leader, has taken a harder stance, comparing the U.N. resolution to “medieval calls for crusades.”
Reporting by Thomas Grove; editing by Elizabeth Piper