Moscow rebukes US over Syria chemical weapons report

MOSCOW, Russia — Senior Russian officials on Friday slammed US allegations that embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is using chemical weapons against armed rebel factions in the country’s devastating civil war.

White House claims on Thursday that Assad had crossed a “red line” with his alleged use of chemical weapons, as well as the administration’s promise to step up support for the opposition, is likely to further fuel an acrimonious dispute between Washington and Moscow over the ongoing conflict.

Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the parliamentary committee on international affairs, compared the US assertion to Washington’s claim that former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction.

“The information about the usage of chemical weapons by Assad is fabricated the same way as the lie about Hussein's weapons of mass destruction,” Pushkov wrote via Twitter. “Obama is walking along the path of George [W.] Bush.”

President Vladimir Putin’s foreign affairs advisor, Yuri Ushakov, similarly told reporters on Friday that US evidence of Assad’s use of chemical weapons “does not look convincing,” according to Russian news agency Interfax.

Russia has long voiced its opposition to Western intervention in the Syrian crisis, which the UN estimates has claimed more than 90,000 lives, pitching it as a domestic conflict that would only worsen with outside involvement.

Moscow’s critics, meanwhile, have slammed what they say is Russian support for Assad through its earlier refusal to back UN sanctions against the regime. Russia’s billion-dollar arms contract with Damascus has also been the subject of intense dispute.

Most recently, Moscow has come under fire for its planned shipment of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. But Putin said recently that the missiles have not yet been delivered because of fear of disrupting the regional balance.

In an interview with CBS earlier this week, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov maintained that Moscow has provided Damascus with defensive weapons according to international legal standards.

He also criticized US support for Syria’s scattered opposition, which Moscow has long argued contains Islamist extremists and terrorists, as evidence of “double standards.”

“You either deny terrorists any acceptance in the international life or you make your double standard policy work the way it has been working,” Lavrov said, according to a transcript of the interview posted to the website of Russia’s state-run, English-language RT network.

Russian experts said Friday that Moscow would remain reluctant to back any unilateral claims against Assad without what it considers to be solid proof.

“I don’t believe that Russia will trust anybody, except an officially established UN commission with a mandate and access to all areas [of information],” said foreign policy analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Russia in Global Affairs journal.

Meanwhile, a planned international peace conference on the Syrian crisis announced last month by Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry remains stalled.