Following last week’s chemical attack, the West has engineered a media campaign to facilitate a military incursion, says Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The minister also cast doubts on the veracity of US and European claims about the incident.
“Official Washington, London and Paris say they have incontrovertible evidence that the Syrian government is behind the chemical attack in Damascus, but they have not yet presented this evidence. Yet, they keep saying that the ‘red line’ has been crossed,” Lavrov said during an emergency press conference in Moscow.
“Now, we are hearing calls for a military campaign against Syria.”
Lavrov said that the US, Britain and other countries have assembled a “powerful force” and are “readying their ships and planes” for a possible invasion.
The minister said that the development set the world on a "perilous path" and warned that “repeating the Iraqi and Lybyan scenario” and bringing in outside forces, would be a “terrible mistake that will lead to more blood being spilt”.
The minister reserved particular outrage for the newly-mooted possibility of NATO staging a strike on chemical storage facilities without a United Nations mandate.
Asked if Russia was going to join in the potential conflict on either side, Lavrov said “We have no plans to go to war, but we hope that others think of long-term interests.”
Last Wednesday, footage began to emerge of civilians in a Damascus suburb suffering from what appeared to be the effects of a neurotoxic gas.
Previously, Barack Obama stated that use of chemical weapons would be a ‘red line’ in the conflict, which would have “enormous consequences” for the Syrian regime, though the US president appeared more cautious about possible intervention in interviews over the past few days.
Medical aid group, Doctors without Borders, have reported that at least 355 people have died as a result of the incident.
The Syrian opposition, which has been involved in the 30-month conflict with the Syrian government, said state forces had been behind the attack. The Syrian government has denied the claims, saying that the use of chemical weapons after repeated warnings from the international community would be “illogical”.
In his conference, Lavrov questioned the rebel version of events.
“There is information that videos were posted on the internet hours before the purported attack, and other reasons to doubt the rebel narrative.”
“Those involved with the incident wanted to sabotage the upcoming Geneva peace talks. Maybe that was the motivation of those who created this story. The opposition obviously does not want to negotiate peacefully.”
Lavrov also said that the UN expert team that is currently in Damascus, investigating the attack, “does not have the mandate” to produce an official ruling on who was responsible for the chemical release.
“The experts in Syria have the mandate to determine if chemical weapons were used, and if so, which ones, but not who unleashed this attack” Lavrov told the gathered media.
“The UN security council will make the final decision about the perpetrator based on this evidence and all the analytical and factual materials available on the internet and in other media.”
While Lavrov said that he is continuing to work on the Geneva peace conference with his US counterpart John Kerry, he stated that it was now unlikely that the long-postponed talks would take place in September.
He also explained the reasons he believes the opposition has been unwilling to participate.
“Why go to a conference if you believe that the regime’s infrastructure will all be destroyed anyway by allies, and then you can just march into Damascus unopposed, and take control?”