Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow is fully convinced that a deadly chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province was a “provocation” against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
“We are absolutely convinced that it was a provocation. Assad didn’t use the weapons. It was done by people who wanted to blame him for that,” said the Russian leader at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.
Over 80 people, including many children, died in the April 4 purported gas attack on the northern town of Khan Shaykhun, which the Western countries blamed on the Syrian government.
The Syrian government fiercely rejected the allegations and has repeatedly denied using or even possessing chemical weapons since the country’s compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention was certified by international observers in 2013.
However, three days later, using the incident as a pretext, US warships fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea at the Shayrat airfield in Syria’s central province of Homs, causing some 15 fatalities, including civilians. The US officials at the time claimed that the suspected Khan Shaykhun gas attack had been launched from the military site.
President Putin further noted in his remarks that Russian intelligence had information that a “similar scenario” was to be played out elsewhere in the Arab country, including near the capital Damascus.
“Thank God, they were smart enough not to do that after we released information about it,” he said.
Putin also said if any aircraft had taken off from the airfield, modern control sources would have been able to spot the loading of shells with chemical agents.
Syria has been fighting different foreign-sponsored militant groups since March 2011. United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimated last August that more than 400,000 people had been killed in the war until then.