In a move that should come as a surprise to few, Russia has rejected what amounts to near international consensus regarding those responsible for Tuesday’s chemical attack on Syrian civilians in a rebel controlled region of the country.
The attack, which U.S. officials believe to have been perpetrated using Sarin gas, a chemical weapon banned from use by the United Nations, killed dozens of people, including eleven children, most of whom were below the age of eight years old. Subsequent air strikes targeted two medical facilities being used to treat the injured that resulted in the attack.
Video footage and gruesome images of the aftermath of the attack have begun to surface around the internet. Spokesmen from both the United States and the UK have both laid the blame for the attack squarely at the feet of Bashar al-Assad, who has held the presidency in Syria since 2000 and has been repeatedly accused of using chemical agents against his own people in the effort to suppress the rebels inside his country.
In contrast to the outrage demonstrated around the world, Russia chose to blame the victims of the war crime, claiming that the air strike did not utilize chemical weapons, and instead that it must have detonated an ammunition stockpile that included a rebel collection of sarin canisters.
“Russia and its armed forces will continue their operations to support the anti-terrorist operations of Syria’s armed forces to free the country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The United States, Britain, and France have proposed a draft UN Security Council resolution that would officially place responsibility for the attack on Assad’s regime, but Peskov made it clear that the Russian ambassador intends to argue a different version of events; one where the rebels are held responsible for the attack. Placing the blame on the rebels would be convenient for both Russia and the Syrian government, as it would constrain international support for the rebels.
Reports from out of Syria sharply contrast Russia’s account of events: “Everyone saw the plane while it was bombing with gas,” Hassan Haj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army rebel group, told Reuters from northwestern Syria. “Likewise, all the civilians in the area know that there are no military positions there, or places for the manufacture (of weapons).”
He went on to call the Russian statement a lie, and claimed that the rebels don’t currently possess the necessary equipment to produce Sarin gas.
The Syrian government has a history of blaming the rebel groups for the use of chemical weapons throughout their conflict, which, in terms of international politics makes sense in order to retain what they hope appears like the moral high ground in a war many in the West see as a fight against the oppressive regime. Their position, however, is contradicted by an appreciation of where the attacks take place: just about all instances of chemical weapons being used in the Syrian conflict have been reported out of rebel controlled regions – and as Assad has captured more of these areas, the portion of the country the attacks occur shrinks in contrast to rebel controlled space. In effect, in order for the rebels to be responsible for these violations of international law, they would need to be targeting themselves.
Below, you can find two maps SOFREP was able to create by compiling images and videos produced by Human Rights Watch. The first shows reported chemical weapons attacks in Aleppo, Syria in November and December of 2016:
The second shows remaining rebel controlled territory as of December 12th of last year, clearly showing a progression of chemical attacks assisting Syrian efforts to reclaim rebel controlled land:
Despite accusations of as many as a hundred or more chemical weapon attacks in Syria carried out by Assad’s regime, this is the first incident that the United States has accused the Syrian government of being responsible for since 2013. At the time, President Barrack Obama threatened to initiate an air campaign aimed at toppling Assad’s regime – a directive that was narrowly avoided by Syria accepting a Moscow organized initiative to give up their chemical weapon arsenal. President Trump has spoken publicly about Obama’s decision to back down, saying that it proved his predecessor’s weak stance on international affairs.
President Trump did not mince words regarding this latest attack, referring to it as “heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime,” while chiding Obama for not taking steps to prevent it years ago.
As this article goes to press, a meeting of the UN Security Council is ongoing, in which Russia is expected to continue their trend of vetoing any resolution that looks upon the Syrian government in an unfavorable light. In the days to come, President Trump will be in the spotlight, as the impending conflict between US and Russian interests promises to warrant some difficult decisions from the White House.
Image courtesy of News.com