Using his executive authority, President Donald Trump had twice ordered retaliatory strikes against Syrian government targets after over the use of chemical weapons. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has numerous times authorized the gassing of rebels and civilians fighting in the nation’s ongoing Civil War. In both instances, Russia released statements claiming that the chemical attacks were staged by the United States in order to justify military action against Assad. That narrative went on to gather steam on social media, in no small part thanks to Russia’s expertise in the realm of perception management.
Unfounded as those accusations were, if you approach each incident without context, you might be inclined to consider the possibilities presented by the slew of Russian officials offering talking points to credible-seeming news outlets, which are often owned by the Russian state. However, the United Nations (UN) recently provided an important bit of perspective regarding the use of internationally banned chemical weapons in Syria: it happens a lot more often than most Americans might think.
In fact, according to a new report by U.N. investigators, Assad’s Syrian regime has used chemical weapons in their Civil War no fewer than 33 times (for certain) since 2013, with at least six more incidents under investigation. If Russia posits that the United States staged the two latest attacks (including recent claims that America is planning to attack again), the question remains: how do they justify the other 31 times people were killed using weapons Russia claims to have overseen the disposal of?
Further, U.N. investigators went on to accuse Assad’s regime of launching “indiscriminate attacks” against noncombatants, which also constitutes a war crime.
“To recapture eastern Ghouta in April, government forces launched numerous indiscriminate attacks in densely populated civilian areas, which included the use of chemical weapons,” the report reads about Syrian offensives mounted Jan. 22 and Feb. 1. “The Commission concludes that, on these two occasions, government forces and or affiliated militias committed the war crimes of using prohibited weapons and launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian-populated areas in eastern Ghouta.”
Syria has become a quagmire of conflict in recent years, with the ongoing Civil War paving the way for extremist groups, such as ISIS, to establish strongholds within the nation. The United States has long provided support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, a fluid assortment of rebel groups that seek to depose Assad, as well as managing its own offensive operations. Iran and Russia have both pledged their support to the formal Syrian government, and various other regional powers, including Israel and Turkey, have also found their way into the fight.
Russia recently began a new media campaign suggesting that the United States and even Syrian rebels themselves are planning yet another chemical weapon attack against their own forces, ostensibly to garner international support for their cause. Based on historical precedent, then, it seems likely that another Syrian-led chemical attack may be on the horizon, with the Russian propaganda machine working to set the stage for their subsequent denials.