Russia warns of Syria chemical weapons fabrication as US ups involvement

The Obama administration says it's convinced the Syrian government has used chemical weapons and promised more aid to the rebellion. Russia warns that it could be Iraq all over again.

George Ourfalian/Reuters
Smoke rises during what activists say was military operations led by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad against rebels, in Aleppo's countryside, Thursday.

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A senior Russian lawmaker accused the US of fabricating evidence of Syrian government chemical weapons use, comparing it to America's incorrect claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ahead of the US invasion of that country in 2003.

The already slim hope that a joint US and Russia-organized peace conference on Syria planned for next month would accomplish anything, or even happen at all, got slimmer after the US announcement.

“Information about the usage of chemical weapons by [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad is fabricated in the same way as the lie about [Saddam] Hussein's weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq],” Alexei Pushkov, leader of the Russian lower house’s international affairs committee, said in a twitter comment, according to RIA Novosti.

The White House has insisted that Mr. Assad using chemical weapons would cross a "red line" prompting possible US military involvement. The Assad regime has been openly receiving weapons from outside sources, including Russia, throughout the conflict. 

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said today that Britain agrees with the US assessment that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, Reuters reports. 

Mr. Pushkov said that President Barack Obama "is going the same way" as former President George W. Bush did, RIA Novosti reports. In the leadup to the Iraq war, the US released a slew of intelligence reports alleging that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which it cast as a viable enough threat to justify invading. The WMDs never materialized.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Ushakov said that information the US provided to Russia "didn't look convincing," the Associated Press reports. 

He also said that Russia will not lift its hold on delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems it sold to Syria. President Vladimir Putin said the stay on delivery is to maintain the "regional balance of power," Bloomberg reports. “We’re not in competition over Syria,” Mr. Ushakov said.

He also warned that the peace initiative was threatened by the Obama administration's "hardening" of its stance, Bloomberg reports.

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that the White House had decided to provide additional support, including military support, to the rebels, but resisted saying explicitly that the US would provide arms. However, he did say that US aid from now on would be very different "in scope and scale" from previous assistance. 

The goal is to "strengthen their effectiveness," he said, according to RIA Novosti.

Business Insider reports that Russia may finally be looking to extricate itself from Syria. The Obama administration reportedly told Russia that it should "pull its support" from the Syrian regime, and analysts Business Insider spoke to say that Russia may heed the warning.

As we've already reported, there are Russian troops in Syria, and should a fight take place, those troops would be in harm's way.

Now Washington has kindly advised Moscow that a fight will take place, and, for fear of appearing aligned with chemical weapons use, Russia will likely make its exodus.

"Should the 'red line' of chemical weapon use be crossed, I think Russia will just want to be completely removed from the situation, and make sure that they retain influence in a post-Assad Syria," Ingrid Pederson, an expert in Near East and Russian geopolitics, told Business Insider.

"Russia is very self-interested and continuing to back Assad at this point does nothing for them and in fact could hurt their image with those who may come to control Syria after Assad falls," Pederson concluded.

Britain is holding back, at least for now. A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said today that Britain is not ready to provide arms, but would consider a no-fly zone or other measure, Reuters reports. 

"Nothing is off the table," the spokesman said. "We are in urgent discussions with our international partners."

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