Moscow has reportedly gained intelligence claiming outside entities, possibly the U.S., plan to launch chemical attacks inside Syria in order to frame President Bashar Assad’s regime, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
During a televised press conference, Mr. Putin said unnamed provocateurs throughout Syria are looking execute chemical attacks against anti-government and civilian targets, and lay the blame on the Assad regime, Agence France Presse reported.
The accusations come as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow to meet with Russian counterparts for bilateral security talks this week. The comments also come days after U.S. warships bombarded a Syrian military outpost that Washington claims was the source of a deadly chemical strike against anti-Assad forces in northern Syria’s Idlib province.
“We have information from various sources that such provocations — I cannot call them otherwise — are being prepared in other regions of Syria, including in the southern outskirts of Damascus, where they are again planning to throw some kind of substance and accuse Syrian official authorities of using it,” Mr. Putin said during the live speech.
Mr. Putin urged the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate Russian claims that third-party groups were looking to sow discord in Syria by launching chemical weapon attacks.
The United Nation’s sanctions watchdog group was the organization tasked with overseeing the dismantlement of Syria’s chemical stockpiles, as part of Russian-brokered 2013 peace pact between Damascus and Washington.
Mr. Putin and other top Russian officials have been severely critical of the Trump administration’s decision to strike the al Shayrat airbase on Friday.
American warships fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles early Friday morning into the base, located in the Alawite-dominated region of western Syria, in retaliation for the Idlib chemical strike that left over 70 dead, including 11 children.
Hours after the attack, the Russian Ministry of Defense suspended communications with U.S. counterparts in Syria. Moscow and Washington say the communications were strictly designed to ensure U.S. and Russian air assets do not interfere with each other’s operations in the country.
Russia has also faced allegations of assisting Mr. Assad’s forces in covering up the use of chemical weapons in Idlib. U.S. intelligence officials spotted a Russian drone conducting aerial surveillance over a hospital, which was being used as a casualty collection point for victims of the Idlib strike.
“Some hours later, the [drone] returned and the hospital was struck” by a conventional airstrike, a senior military official said Friday.
“We don’t know who struck [the hospital]. We do not have positive accountability, yet,” the official said. “But the fact that someone would strike the hospital — potentially to hide the evidence of a chemical attack … is a question that we are very interested in.”
Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.