During a discussion held at the annual international economic forum in St. Petersburg last week, the moderator, NBC host Megyn Kelly, asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to comment on the April 4 chemical attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, reportedly carried out by Syrian government forces.
Putin defended the Assad regime, saying it did not possess or use chemical weapons, and that all reports claiming otherwise were falsifications aimed at pinning the atrocity on Assad.
Kelly referred to videos taken at site of the attack showing suffering and dying children, saying that they were what prompted President Donald Trump to order an airstrike.
She then asked Putin: “Do you believe those tapes are fake?”
He responded: “That’s false information. As of now, we’re absolutely convinced that this was a provocation. Assad did not use those weapons, and all of this was done by people who wanted to blame him.”
Kelly then referred to the results of the autopsies of victims conducted in Turkey and witnessed by the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the World Health Organization, with Turkey concluding that the victims were attacked with sarin gas.
“Are we really to believe that the whole thing was staged, that everybody was in on it?” she asked.
Putin responded: “The answer is simple, and you know it. It [sarin] could have been used by someone, but not Assad.”
Since the April attack in Khan Sheikhoun, which claimed the lives of at least 80 civilians, Russia has significantly changed its narrative of what took place.
First, Russia attempted to portray the poisoning of civilians in Khan Sheikhoun as the accidental side effect of Syrian government airstrikes on a terrorist chemical weapons workshop.
The Kremlin then shifted its narrative and denied that the gassing even took place, claiming that the whole affair, including the victims, was a falsification.
The first proof that chemical weapons were used in the Khan Sheikhoun attack was presented on April 6 by Turkish authorities, who released the results of autopsies conducted on the bodies of the victims, which confirmed the presence of the sarin gas.
Putin’s claims regarding the West’s unwillingness to conduct an investigation into the Khan Sheikhoun attack were also untrue.
In fact, last month France - a member of the U.S.-led coalition - released the results of its investigations of the April 4 attack.
France’s declassified intelligence report provided a detailed account of the incident, including laboratory test results of samples collected from the site of the attack, and military and technical analyses.
“Based on this overall evaluation and on reliable and consistent intelligence collected by our Services, France assesses that the Syrian armed forces and security services perpetrated a chemical attack using sarin gas against civilians in Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017,” the report concludes.
On May 12, the Technical Secretariat of the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons - an independent international body - released a status update report of the ongoing investigation of the Khan Sheikhoun attack.
According to OPCW, members of the organization’s Fact Finding Mission (FFM) were deployed to the site in “less than 24 hours.” The FFM attended the autopsies of victims and collected biometrical and environmental samples, including those of dead animals from the incident site, which later were analyzed by the Designated Laboratories. The group also conducted witness interviews, visiting hospitals where surviving victims of the attack were being treated.
The eight-page OPCW status report provides detailed results from lab tests of the samples collected during autopsies, as well as from the survivors, which showed the exposure to sarin. It also presents the results of lab tests of environmental samples, which also showed the exposure to sarin.