Images of Syrians affected by chemical attack not enough for Russia, who term them fake pictures of some Western countries
Russia is systematically denying the suspected chemical attacks reportedly carried out by the Bashar al-Assad regime on its civilians, claiming that images that show poisoned Syrians have been made up by Western countries.
Russia has also blocked a UN Security Council meeting to discuss human rights violations in Syria.
Since the beginning of the civil war, Assad regime forces have reportedly carried out 215 chemical attacks.
Only three of the suspected attacks in which the death toll was high could draw the attention of the international community.
Images of Syrian civilians affected by the chemical attack, however, were not convincing enough for Russian authorities, who insisted they were fake photos made up by some Western countries.
The biggest death toll was when the regime used chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013.
At least 1,400 civilians were killed. In addition, a large number of civilians, especially women and children, were affected by the chemical attack.
Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first statement about the incident only after the UN inspectors finished their examinations in Syria.
“I am convinced that [the chemical attack] is nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict, and who want to win the support of powerful members of the international arena, especially the United States,” Putin said on Aug. 31, 2013.
After the 2013 chemical attack in Syria, the U.S. was expected to intervene in Syria. However, Russia avoided the American intervention — which appeared to violate a previously stated a U.S. “red line” — after the regime said it will destroy its chemical weapon stock. An agreement was reached on Sep. 15, 2013.
The weapons were destroyed as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) came into play. The organization announced the destruction process ended on Aug. 19, 2014.
However, the organization destroyed only the stocks the regime had revealed. The attacks in Idlib, Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta were proof that the regime managed to hide some of its chemical weapons.
– Khan Sheikhoun attack
At least 100 civilians were killed in a chemical weapon attack by the regime in Idlib’s Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017.
Several Khan Sheikhoun residents were sleeping during the attack which occurred in the early morning hours.
The opposition reported Syrian fighter jets, and thought they were the usual air strikes. But when the bombings did not result in any bleeding or scars, it was understood it was a chemical attack.
Russian authorities, however, claimed that “an ammunition depot” had been targeted, not civilians.
Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov also confirmed that the attack targeted an ammunition depot east of Khan Sheikhoun, claiming the warehouse had been used to produce and store shells containing toxic gas.
Aerial footages obtained by Anadolu Agency a day after the attack revealed that the targeted warehouse was an unused wheat silo.
Three days after the suspected chemical attack, the U.S. responded with an airstrike at the Shayrat airfield, which was seen by Russia as a U.S. pretext to intervene in Syria.
– Russia makes probe difficult
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) on Oct. 27, 2017 concluded that the Assad regime was responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun massacre and presented the report to the UN Security Council. In the investigation process of the attack and the JIM report, Russian authorities made statements criticizing its research methods and findings.
On Oct. 21, 2016, JIM held the regime responsible for three more attacks during the Khan Sheikhoun investigation.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia raged against the JIM process after it determined the regime had used chemical weapons in Idlib’s Talamenes village on April 21, 2014, in Sarmin village on March 16, 2015, and in Aleppo’s Marea on Aug. 21, 2016. Nebenzia called them a “fictitious probe” and “baseless accusations”.
Russia vetoed the decision to extend the probe of the JIM investigation on Nov. 18, 2017. This had been the 10th veto Russia had casted in favor of the regime since the civil war had begun. Nebenzia explained the veto by saying the JIM had “disgraced itself” through baseless accusations.
No sanctions have been made against the regime yet since the JIM decision, which holds the regime responsible for Khan Sheikhoun and three other chemical attacks; it was not even deemed enough to have the ones responsible for the massacre judged before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Because Syria is not a member of the ICC, the UN Security Council must refer the regime to the ICC. However, Russia prevents this process as well.
– Douma Massacre
The regime’s last strike killed 78 civilians with chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta’s Douma district. Russia said the attack was an excuse to sabotage the evacuation since March 22 under a Russia-brokered agreement between the Bashar al-Assad regime and armed opposition groups.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement the news was “fake”.
“False information is being planted about the alleged use of chlorine and other toxic agents by the Syrian government forces,” the ministry said.
Asked if the regime was using chemical weapons in Syria in an interview with the NBC broadcaster last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Syrian government had long destroyed all chemical weapons in its possession.
Putin said: “All of this is the result of radical elements, acts of terrorists. They commit these crimes to blame Assad. We are aware of the plans of the rebels to show the Syrian army as using chemical weapons. They had tried to do this in the recent past.”
The Russian president also said the armed opposition forces in Syria are using the accusations of the regime using chemical weapons “as an excuse to their fight against Assad”.