Chemical weapons in Syria: How Russia views the debate
Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the reports are an effort to derail a planned peace conference led by Russia and the US.
Both Russian officials and independent experts in Moscow heaped doubts today on the veracity of reports that Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad killed more than 1,000 people using poison gas in an attack on rebels in a Damascus suburb Wednesday.Skip to next paragraph
Fred Weir has been the Monitor's Moscow correspondent, covering Russia and the former Soviet Union, since 1998.
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"Russia isn't persuaded by any of these reports. Nobody in Moscow believes Assad would use chemical weapons, especially now that he's winning without them, and he'd be crazy to do so on the very day that UN inspectors are visiting Damascus to look into reports of chemical weapon use," says Sergei Markov, a frequent adviser to President Vladimir Putin.
"It's obvious to us that we're looking at a well-prepared provocation, possibly staged by Qatar or Saudi Arabian intelligence, aimed at whipping up emotions in the West and triggering an armed intervention to aid the rebels. It's clear the rebels can't hope to win without such assistance from outside, so they are the only ones who have any stake in creating an example like this. Russia is not going to support any moves in that direction," he adds.
Public opinion has been deeply shocked by videos that allegedly show the victims of the attack, including rows of bodies with no signs of physical violence upon them as well as survivors gasping for air and staring with vacant eyes.
Experts say that Moscow is alarmed by what it perceives as a changed tone of conversation in the West in the wake of the reports, including French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius' remark that, if proven, the attacks would warrant a "reaction of force."
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told journalists Wednesday that Moscow believes the reports are a sophisticated effort to derail the planned Geneva-2 peace conference, which Russia and the US have been trying, so far with fading success, to organize.
The rebels and their Persian Gulf sponsors want to "create a pretext at any cost for demanding that the UN Security Council stand on the side of the opponents of the regime, and in this way undermine the chances of convening the Geneva conference," Mr. Lukashevich said.