MESOP NEWS FOCUS: Russia Complains About Investigation of Assad’s Chemical Attack

By  Scott Lucas – eaworldview – Russia tries another line to discredit inquiry into April 4 chemical attack in northwest Syria

22 April 2017 – Russia has complained again about the international investigation into the Assad regime’s deadly chemical attack on a town in northwest Syria almost three weeks ago.

Since a regime warplane fired a missile with a nerve agent into Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, killing at least 93 people and wounding almost 600, Moscow has held a conflicting line on an inquiry. It has maintained that it supports an investigation, while blocking a UN resolution that mandates the Assad regime to cooperate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Moscow’s issue is the exclusion of Moscow’s personnel from the investigation, according to the State Department. Lavrov said that Russia regrets US opposition to its involvement.

The Department said the two sides agreed to consider one more time an “objective investigation into the incident” under the aegis of the OPCW.

Because of the Russian veto in the Security Council, the OPCW has not yet investigated inside Syria. However, it has evaluated the evidence from 10 victims of the attack, from treatment or autopsies in Turkey, and concluded that “sarin or a sarin-like substance” was used.

The US and UK have gone farther and said the evidence is “conclusive” that the Assad regime carried out the attack.

Before the call with Tillerson, Lavrov went farther in his denunciations of the investigation. He claimed — in defiance of the Russian veto of the resolution — that a visit by chemical weapons inspectors to Khan Sheikhoun had been rebuffed. The Foreign Secretary maintained that the incident was being used as a pretext for Assad’s removal from power:

I think that this is a very serious situation, because it is evident now that the false information about chemical weapons use by the Syrian state is being used to avoid enacting resolution 2254 that stipulates a political settlement. Instead, there is a move towards the long-standing plan for regime change. I’m certain that we must prevent it.

During a visit to Israel, US Defense Secretary James Mattis asserted, I can say authoritatively they [the Assad regime] have retained some [chemical weapons]. It’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically.”

But President Assad — contradicting Russia’s attempts to explain away the chemical attack — repeated that it never occurred. He told Russian outlets, “We think it was fabricated…To us, there was no chemical attack and no chemical depot. It was a fabricated play to justify the [US] attack on the Shayrat airbase.”

Three days after the assault on Khan Sheikhoun, two US warships fired 59 missiles on the Shayrat airbase in Homs Province, from where the warplane which carried out the chemical attack took off.

Russia has said from the outset that chemicals were released in Khan Sheikhoun, alternatively saying that it was a rebel “false flag” attack or that a regime warplane struck a rebel warehouse filled with chemical stocks.