(CNSNews.com) – Russia’s military claimed Tuesday that a chemical weapons false-flag incident in Syria is imminent, saying filming of a staged attack involving the outlawed WMDs is already underway in Idlib, the rebel-held region that is the focus of a major regime offensive.
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton earlier described such claims by Russia and the Assad regime as “outrageous” propaganda.
The Trump administration has warned that another CW attack in Syria will prompt a third U.S. military response – and a bigger one this time than punitive airstrikes launched in April 2017 and again last April.
Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its Russian and Iranian allies maintain that the earlier CW attacks were staged provocations designed to attract U.S. military strikes against the regime – and in recent weeks have been warning that another is being planned.
Russia’s defense ministry said Tuesday that the “staged filming of a provocation involving the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilian population” is now underway in Jisr al-Shugur, an area of Idlib adjacent to the Turkish border.
It claimed that crews from Mideast television channels as well as “a regional branch of a leading U.S. news channel” had arrived in the area to film the supposed attack.
The ministry said the White Helmets group – a volunteer rescue organization accused by the regime and Russia of collaborating with terrorists – is involved in the incident, which will entail a purported “chemical attack carried out by Syrian army using barrel bombs armed with chemical agents” including chlorine.
Idlib is the last real stronghold of anti-regime rebels, including terrorists belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (formerly known as Al-Nusra Front). The Assad-Russia-Iran axis has long accused the U.S. of colluding with terrorists in Syria.
On Monday, Bolton was scathing of the false-flag allegations.
“The government of Russia and others have said that we are giving the authorization for al-Qaeda to use chemical weapons and try and pin it on the government of Syria,” he said during a Federalist Society event in Washington.
“That has to be, in the history of propaganda in the 20th and 21st centuries, one of the most outrageous claims that I can think of.”
Bolton warned again against any further CW use in Syria.
“The response of the Trump administration when we had unmistakable proof, twice – once in April of 2017 and once in April of this year – was to use force against the Syrian regime, because of the use of a weapon of mass destruction that the Trump administration found unacceptable,” he said.
“We’ve tried to convey the message in recent days that if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger.”
Bolton added that the administration has been consulting with Britain and France, which joined the U.S. in the strike last April, “and they also agree that another use of chemical weapons will result in a much stronger response.”
In April last year, President Trump ordered the launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles from two U.S. Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean, targeting a regime airbase which U.S. intelligence had linked to a CW attack in Idlib province two days earlier.
After another CW attack in April this year, near Damascus, the U.S., Britain and France launched coordinated strikes, firing 105 missiles from aircraft and warships in the Mediterranean, Red Sea and northern Arabian Gulf, targeting three Syrian regime chemical weapons-linked installations.
‘Threats and blackmail’
The Kremlin on Tuesday played down reports of a robust military response being prepared by the U.S.
“We don’t take media reports seriously because they have completely discredited themselves,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Vladivostok, where President Vladimir Putin is hosting an economic forum.
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov called the U.S. threats of force part of a “policy of threats and blackmail.”
The Tass state news agency quoted him as telling reporters that unlike the U.S., Russia’s military was monitoring the situation on the ground around the clock, and could identify the locations “where preparations are made to carry out provocations and certain terrorist groups backed by the U.S. and its allies.”
Ryabkov said Idlib could not be allowed to remain “a terrorist stronghold," but that the Syrian government’s policy was to resolve the problem in a way that reduces harm to civilians.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned “the U.S. and its allies against new dangerous steps.”
And in New York, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, repeated Russia’s often-stated position that the Assad regime cannot be responsible for chemical attacks since it surrendered all of its CW arsenal in 2014, a step that had been confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
In fact, under a deal brokered by Russia in the fall of 2013 – to avert threatened airstrikes by President Obama after Assad crossed his “red line” with a sarin attack near Damascus that killed more than 1,000 people – Syria handed over its “declared” CW stockpile.
A U.N.-appointed independent commission investigating the Syrian conflict said in a report last year that it had documented 25 chemical weapons attacks in Syria between March 2013 and March 2017, “of which 20 were perpetrated by government forces and used primarily against civilians.”
Also in 2017, a joint OPCW-U.N. task force found the regime responsible for having used sarin in an attack the previous April – the one that prompted the first U.S. missile strike.