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Russia: Libya Land War 'One Step' Away For NATO

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In this photo made available by French Army Saturday June 4, 2011, combat helicopters are prepared on the deck of French navy vessel BPC Tonnerre in the Mediterranean sea. British Apache and French attack helicopters struck targets for the first time in NATO's campaign in Libya, hitting Moammar Gadhafi's troops early Saturday near a key coastal oil town, the alliance said. Hours later, at least eight airstrikes were heard in Tripoli. (AP Photo/Arnaud Roine/ECPAD) NO SALES. | AP

SINGAPORE — NATO is "one step" from sending troops into Libya to help rebels remove Moammar Gadhafi from power, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Sunday.

British and French attack helicopters struck for the first time inside Libya on Saturday, having previously relied on attack jets generally flying above 15,000 feet (4,500 meters).

"Using attack helicopters, in my view, is the last but one step before the land operation," Ivanov said in Singapore at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security conference.

Russia abstained from a United Nations Security Council resolution vote in March to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Ivanov said there has been disagreement over how to interpret the scope of the resolution.

"We thought it was a good resolution to stop civilian casualties and close down Libyan air space," Ivanov said. "But we haven't agreed on what closing down air space means. Later, it apparently meant first bombing and now using attack helicopters. We think it clearly takes one side of the conflict."

NATO airstrikes have kept the outgunned rebels from being overrun, but the rebels have been unable to mount an effective offensive against Gadhafi's better-equipped forces.

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