As reports broke about what appears to be yet another chemical weapons attack carried out against civilians by Bashar al Assad’s Syrian regime, questions immediately began to rise about an American response. President Trump has already demonstrated a willingness to use kinetic force against Syrian assets believed to be responsible for chemical weapon attacks, and rhetoric from senior defense officials within his cabinet like Defense Secretary James Mattis has demonstrated no shift from that hard line in the months since.
Further, in statements made in the past few days, the United States has made it clear that, although Assad’s regime may have been responsible for the attack, it was made possible through Russia’s military and diplomatic support.
“The first thing we have to look at is why are chemical weapons still being used at all when Russia was the framework guarantor of removing all chemical weapons, and so working with our allies and partners from NATO to Qatar and elsewhere we are going to address this issue,” James Mattis told reporters on Sunday.
Even President Trump, who has been criticized for giving Russian President Vladimir Putin a wide berth in the past, cited the Russian leader by name in his condemnation of the attack on Twitter over the weekend, calling Assad an “animal” and Putin, along with Iran, responsible.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” Trump tweeted. “Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price…”
He continued in another tweet, “….to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”
Russia, however, has denied that any chemical weapon attack has taken place at all, attributing the images and videos of dead men, women and children while others convulse and foam from the mouths to propaganda created by a great “Western conspiracy” that aims to discredit leaders like Putin, Assad, and Kim Jong Un. In fact, it could be argued that Russia was well aware that this chemical attack was coming, as their senior defense officials started planting the seeds of this latest conspiracy theory weeks ago.
Last month, Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov released a statement claiming that the United States was planning to frame Syrian forces with a chemical weapons attack in order to justify a missile strike in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Of course, despite being perhaps more aware than most that Russia could not afford to engage with the United States in a military conflict, Gersimov threatened that the Russian military would engage U.S. forces if threatened. Interestingly, an engagement between Russian forces (claimed to be mercenaries) and U.S. troops did already take place in Syria, ending in a crushing defeat that left hundreds of Russians dead.
We have reliable information about militants preparing to falsify a government chemical attack against civilians. In several districts of Eastern Ghouta, a crowd was assembled with women, children and old people, brought from other regions, who were to represent the victims of the chemical incident, ” Gerasimov told the Kremlin owned RT back in March.
“According to reports, after the false flag attack, the US plans to accuse the Syrian government troops of using chemical weapons, and to provide the world community with the so-called ‘evidence’ of the alleged mass death of civilians at the hands of the Syrian government and “Russia supporting it,” he went on.
This isn’t the first time Russia has applied tin-foil-hat theories and blatant misinformation to their perception management campaigns in Syria. In fact, Russia’s official statements regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria has been filled with as many confirmed lies as truths, including the use of video game footage as “evidence” of American support for ISIS, fictional accounts of intercepts between advanced Russian and American fighters, and claims that U.S. forces violated the military deconfliction zone established to prevent conflicts between the two nations.
Russian officials have used this same approach elsewhere following the attempted assassination of a former Russian intelligence officer turned MI6 informant, Sergei Skripal – issuing a variety of contradictory arguments via various channels and claiming that the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England, like the recent chemical weapon attack in Syria, was staged to frame Russia for the crime. To what end, of course, Russia has yet to inform the world.
Now, as President Trump and his cabinet work alongside international partners to assess responses to this most recent and egregious human rights violation reportedly carried out by Russian and Syrian forces, the misinformation machine that is Russian foreign policy is already revving into high gear. The Russian Foreign Ministry released a new statement on Sunday that, once again, attempts to plant the seed of doubt – claiming that the entire attack was a hoax perpetrated by the United States and its allies.
Information attacks about the use of chlorine or other poisonous substances by the Syrian government troops are continuing. Another such hoax about the chemical attack that supposedly took place in Douma emerged yesterday,” the statement said.
“We have warned of such dangerous provocations many times before. The purpose of these false conjectures, which are without any basis, is to shield the terrorists and the irreconcilable radical opposition, which reject a political settlement while trying to justify possible military strikes from outside,” it added.
“It is necessary to warn once again that using far-fetched and fabricated pretexts for a military intervention in Syria, where Russian servicemen are deployed at the request of the legitimate government, is absolutely unacceptable and can lead to the most serious consequences,” the statement continued.
Meanwhile, the total death toll from the chemical attack in Douma, Syria has reportedly surpassed 70 people, including women and children – with more than 500 others seeking medical treatment for exposure to noxious gas.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press