(CNSNews.com) – Russian President Vladimir Putin charged Tuesday that the U.S. was wielding allegations of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime as a pretext for military action, just as it did in 2003 with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Doubling down on suggestions that last week’s toxic gas attack and subsequent U.S. missile strike against a Syrian airbase were part of an anti-Assad conspiracy, Putin also claimed that elements – he did not identify them – were now preparing further “provocations,” to plant chemical agents and blame it on the regime.
“This reminds me very much of the events of 2003, when U.S. representatives in the Security Council showed alleged chemical weapons discovered in Iraq,” he said at the Kremlin, alongside visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella. The Kremlin provided a translation of the remarks.
“A military campaign in Iraq ensued, which ended with the destruction of the country, an increased terrorist threat and the emergence of ISIS on the international scene– no more, no less.”
“The exact same thing is happening now, and their partners are nodding approvingly.”
Borrowing a well-known line from Soviet writers Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov (in their 1928 satirical novel The Twelve Chairs), Putin quipped, “‘It’s boring, ladies.’ We have seen this all before.”
Putin said these developments were happening now because Syria and Russia provide a convenient “common enemy” to allow a restoration and consolidation of relations among Western countries, after many European nations had “adopted an anti-Trump position during the election campaign” – something which he attributed to the Obama administration.
Asked whether he believed the U.S. would carry out further strikes in Syria, Putin claimed that new “provocations” were even now being planned inside that country.
“We have information from a variety of sources that such provocations – I cannot find another word for this – are being prepared in other parts of Syria, including in southern suburbs of Damascus, where they are planning to plant certain substances and accuse Syrian authorities of using them,” he said.
Moscow asserts that Assad’s enemies, emboldened by President Obama’s 2012 comment that use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict would be a “red line,” have themselves employed the lethal agents, in a bid to trigger Western intervention against the regime.
It claims that this happened in the case of a sarin gas attack in Ghouta, near Damascus in August 2013, which resulted in U.S. threats to launch airstrikes. Those threats eventually made way for a Russia-brokered deal in which Assad pledged to hand over his chemical weapons stocks for destruction.
And Russia alleges that the same thing happened last week in Khan Sheikhun – the attack that promoted President Trump to order a cruise missile strike against the regime airbase which he says was involved.
One day before the missile strike, Russian U.N. representative Vladimir Safronkov told the Security Council that Obama’s “red line” had prompted terrorists to use chemical weapons in an attempt to discredit the regime and “create a pretext for the use of military force against a sovereign state.”
Putin said Tuesday the international community must “thoroughly investigate these matters” and said Russia would be officially approaching “the appropriate U.N. institution in The Hague.”
That institution, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), oversaw Assad’s surrender of his declared chemical weapons and their subsequent destruction.
Assad then acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention, but subsequent investigations by a joint OPCW-U.N. team determined that the regime had since then used chlorine as a weapon on at least three occasions, in March 2014 and March 2015.
The investigators also found evidence that the ISIS terrorist group had used another chemical weapon, sulphur mustard gas, north of Aleppo in August 2015.