Russia's Putin warns West not to meddle

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin said Russia is concerned about the “growing threat” of an attack on Iran over its nuclear program and warned that the consequences would be “truly catastrophic.”

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks as he meets with Canadian and Russian former legendary ice hockey players, coaches and officials at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, February 24, 2012. REUTERS/Misha Japaridze/Pool

In an article on foreign policy written before a March 4 presidential election he is almost certain to win, Russia’s prime minister also warned Western and Arab nations against military intervention in Syria and accused Washington of meddling in the politics of Russia and its neighbors.

“I very much hope the United States and other countries ... do not try to set a military scenario in motion in Syria without sanction from the U.N. Security Council,” Putin said in the article published Monday in the newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti.

Putin made clear Russia, which along with China blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at ending a government crackdown on opponents in Syria, would use such levers to block U.S. action when it sees fit.

NATO nations should not form coalitions to launch military intervention when they lack Security Council support, he added.

“Nobody has the right to take for himself the prerogatives and authorities of the United Nations, especially when it comes to using force in relation to sovereign states,” Putin said.

Part of a series he has published almost weekly in the two months ahead of the election, the lengthy article included criticism of the United States familiar from his campaign.

Putin, in power for 12 years, said relations were marred by “regular U.S. attempts to conduct ‘political engineering’, including in regions that are traditionally important to us, and in election campaigns in Russia.”

Putin suggested NATO had a “itch” for war and that the United States was trying to guarantee its security at the expense of others.

“A series of armed conflicts justified by humanitarian aims is undermining the principle, hallowed by the centuries, of state sovereignty,” Putin said, suggesting the United States and NATO were creating a “moral and legal vacuum” in world affairs.

In Russia and abroad, he signaled, Moscow will push back when it believes the West is pressing its own agenda “under cover of humanitarian slogans,” as he argues happened when NATO helped rebels oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi last year.

“Nobody can be allowed to try to implement the ‘Libyan scenario in Syria,” Putin said.

“I very much hope the United States and other countries take this sad experience into account and do not try to set a military scenario in motion in Syria without sanction from the U.N. Security Council.

Putin struck a starker note on Iran, which Western nations fear may be seeking nuclear weapons. Israel has threatened Iran with pre-emptive strikes on its nuclear sites and the United States has not ruled out force if sanctions and diplomacy fail.

“The growing threat of a military strike on this country alarms Russia, no doubt,” Putin said of Iran. “If this occurs, the consequences will be truly catastrophic. It is impossible to imagine their real scale.”

He suggested that Western military intervention in various nations, from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to NATO’s air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya, were only encouraging nuclear proliferation.

Leaders may think, “‘Hey, I’ve got an atomic bomb in my pocket, nobody will touch me,” Putin said.

“Like it or not, it’s a fact that foreign intervention leads to such thoughts.”

Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Philippa Fletcher