Asked if Russia had warned the US administration against any unilateral action in Syria, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, replied that Russian officials have “always spoken about that, including in relation to their [US] latest strikes on Syrian armed forces.”
“We believe that it’s unacceptable and breaches Syria’s sovereignty, isn’t caused by any military need, and there is no threat to the US specialists from the Syrian Army. So it’s incendiary, provocative action,” Gatilov said, as cited by RIA .
On Monday evening, the White House claimed that Syrian President Bashar Assad was preparing a chemical attack and warned that the Syrian government would “pay a heavy price” if the attack was carried out, as cited by AP.
Hours later, the Pentagon said it had detected activity by the Syrian authorities in preparation for the attack. Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said that the US had seen “activity” at Shayrat airfield that showed “active preparations for chemical weapons use.”
The US government failed to provide any further details or proof of such claims, while the State Department’s spokesperson, Heather Nauert, said it was “an intelligence matter.”
When confronted by a journalist that Washington uses the phrase to justify anything that suits it, Nauert answered: “I’m not going to get into that one with you, but this is a very serious and great matter.”
On Wednesday, though, the US suggested that the Syrian leadership had swiftly changed its mind about planning an alleged attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, as cited by Reuters, said: “it appears that they [Syria’s authorities] took the warning seriously. They didn’t do it.”
The Syrian government, as well as Russian authorities, have denied any allegations against them, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that “such threats to Syria’s legitimate leaders are unacceptable.”
In the latest statement, Deputy Foreign Minister Gatilov said that Russia doesn’t rule out that “there may be provocations”following the announcement from Washington.
The statements by the US administration complicate the [peace] negotiations in Astana and Geneva, and Moscow believes such attempts to boost the tensions around Syria are unacceptable.
“The statements on Syrian armed forces getting ready to use chemical weapons is complete nonsense… These assumptions aren’t based on anything, no one provides any facts,” the Russian diplomat said.
“If the aim is to ramp up the spiral of tension, we think it’s unacceptable. It complicates the process of negotiations undertaken in Astana and Geneva,” Gatilov underlined.
“We’ve seen this in the past. Of course there are many ill-wishers, who want to undermine the process [of negotiations]. So any provocations are possible,” the deputy foreign minister added.
Earlier, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued another official statement, saying: “We consider all these insinuations about chemical weapons which are being carried out in the worst traditions of the 2003 NATO intervention in Iraq as an ‘invitation’ for terrorists, extremists, and the armed opposition in Syria to carry out another large-scale provocation, which will result in the ‘unavoidable punishment’ of President Assad, according to Washington’s plans.”
In April, US President Donald Trump launched an attack on Syria with 59 Tomahawk missiles, which targeted Shayrat Airbase near the city of Homs. The strike was in response to what the US claimed was a chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, orchestrated by Syria’s government – something Damascus repeatedly denied.