MOSCOW — Russia signaled deepening intervention Monday in the Syria war, strongly hinting that its “volunteer” ground forces would soon be fighting there, as NATO officials warned the Kremlin after a Russian warplane invaded Turkey’s airspace.
Russia called the air incursion an innocent mistake because of foul weather, a claim that the Americans rejected.
The unfolding developments reflected a dangerous new superpower entanglement in the war, which has left a quarter-million people dead and half the country’s population displaced since it began more than four years ago.
The addition of Russia ground forces to the assaults already underway by Russian warplanes particularly threatens to undermine Turkey’s Syria policy, which aims for the establishment of a “safe zone” along the Turkish border where some Syrian refugees could return in the future.
Russia and Iran have moved aggressively in the past few weeks to strengthen their ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, to fight a range of insurgents. The assistance has raised the possibility of a new ground offensive by Mr. Assad’s forces against groups of fighters including those backed by the United States, Turkey and their allies, who want Mr. Assad to leave power.
Russia’s escalation has come as the Americans and Turks are intensifying their aerial attacks to pressure the Islamic State extremist group, which has seized swaths of Syria and Iraq.
The Americans see the Islamic State as the most dangerous immediate threat. They view Russia’s moves as prolonging and possibly widening the war, even if Russian forces also are hitting Islamic State targets as the Russians assert.
Russia’s intervention already appears to have subverted diplomatic efforts to halt the war, led by a special United Nations envoy, Staffan de Mistura. Forty-one rebel factions that oppose Mr. Assad said in a statement on Monday that Russia’s “brutal occupation has cut the road to any political solution.”
Criticism of Russia also flowed from Saudi Arabia, which strongly opposes Mr. Assad and his Alawite sect, a Shiite Muslim offshoot. Reuters reported that 53 Saudi clerics issued a statement on Monday calling Russia’s immersion in the conflict a Christian crusade against Sunni Muslims, the majority sect in Syria.
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