Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, September 27, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov accused the West of leveling “unsubstantiated allegations” against Syrian authorities for using banned chemical weapons, further warning against “new strikes on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic under another staged pretext."
In August, Lavrov said that Russia had called for inspections by the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks, claiming its “Western colleagues” had moved to block those efforts.
He similarly said "the chemical weapons provocation which is being prepared" is aimed at keeping Al-Nusra in Syria.
But like allegations that it is the West which is standing in the way of Syrian inspections, Lavrov’s charge of “staged pretexts” being used to justify Western airstrikes is false.
After the Ghouta chemical weapons attack in August 2013, which saw up to 1,729 killed in a sarin gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus, Lavrov called intelligence findings that the Syrian state was responsible “unconvincing.”
Nonetheless, Russia, in concert with the United States, hammered out a framework under which Syria would give up its chemical weapon stockpiles. In line with that framework, Damascus acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and became a member of the OPCW. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118 gave Syria until the middle of 2014 to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.
On June 23, 2014, OPCW head Ahmet Üzümcü announced the last of Syria’s chemical weapons had been shipped out of the country for destruction.
But on September 10, 2014 the OPCW found "compelling confirmation" that chlorine gas had been used "systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in Syria.
While chlorine in and of itself is not within the purview of the disarmament agreement, its use as a weapon of war does violate the CWC.
A later report released in August 2016 by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which was tasked with determining who had carried out chemical weapons attacks in Syria, found that the Assad regime had been responsible for incidents on April 2014 in Talmenes and March 2015 in Sarmin. The following month, the JIM issued another report pointing the finger at Damascus for a third chlorine gas attack on March 16, 2015 in Idlib province.
On April 4, 2017, a sarin gas attack killed dozens in northern Idlib province. But on April 12, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution condemning that attack.
On October 24, two days before the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) found the Assad regime guilty of using sarin nerve agent in the April 4 Idlib attack, Russia vetoed a resolution to extend the mechanism’s mandate, which expired on November 17. A further resolution to extend the JIM’s mandate introduced by Japan that November was also vetoed by Russia.
Then, following two smaller chemical weapons attacks in March 2018, a suspected chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma on April 7 killed at least 49 people and wounded up to 650.
On April 10, Russia vetoed a US resolution to establish a UN Independent Mechanism of Investigation with a one-year mandate to investigate responsible parties in Syrian chemical weapons attacks. Russia then proposed an investigative body that would have given the UN Security Council the final say on accountability, granting Moscow veto power over any findings.
Four days later, the United States, France and Britain conducted airstrikes on sites allegedly connected to Syria’s chemical weapons program.
On September 12, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which is investigating war crimes there, documented three further uses of banned chlorine weapons by Syrian government forces that constituted war crimes, according to Reuters.
That brought the number of incidents documented by that commission since 2013 to 39. Of those 39 attacks, 33 were attributed to the Assad regime, while perpetrators in the other six had not been sufficiently identified.
Earlier, on the first anniversary of the April4, 2017 Idlib incident, a Human Rights Watch report, which collated data from seven sources, found that the majority of 85 confirmed chemical weapon attacks in Syria by that time had been carried out by the Syrian government.
Based on the preponderance of evidence pointing to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, Lavrov’s claims of “unsubstantiated allegations” or the potential of “another staged pretext” to initiate military action there are false.