Moscow warns Washington against ‘reckless steps’ in Syria

Updated Aug 26 2018


Istanbul: The Russian Navy’s frigate Admiral Essen, with the Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia in the background, sails in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday.—Reuters
Istanbul: The Russian Navy’s frigate Admiral Essen, with the Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia in the background, sails in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday.—Reuters

MOSCOW: A senior Russian official warned the United States on Saturday against making any “reckless” moves in Syria, the RIA news agency reported.

Reacting to comments by US National Secu­rity Adviser John Bolton about Washington’s possible strong reaction in the event of a chemical or biological attack in the Syrian region of Idlib, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: “We warn the Americans and their allies against taking new reckless steps in Syria.”

Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement that the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is “preparing another provocation of the ‘use of chemical weapons’ by Syrian government forces against the peaceful population of the Idlib province.” He said the group delivered “eight chlorine tanks” to Jisr al-Shughur town in order to “stage” the attack and that these were later taken to a village eight kilometres away.

“We are hearing ultimatums from Washin­g­ton ... and it does not affect our determination to continue our policy for the total elimination of terrorist epicentres in Syria and the return of this country to a normal life,” RIA quoted Ryabkov as saying.

The Idlib region, a refuge for civilians and rebels displaced from other areas of Syria as well as powerful jihadist forces, was hit by a wave of air strikes and shelling this month, in a possible prelude to a full-scale government offensive.

Russia earlier this week presented proposals to the Turkish authorities on resolving the situation in Idlib, a northwestern Syrian region that borders Turkey.

Turkey has backed some rebel groups in region and set up a dozen military observation posts. It is trying to avert an attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Moscow.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem is set to visit Moscow at the end of the month.

The statement also said a group of militants “trained in handling poisonous substances under the supervision of specialists from the private British military company ‘Oliva’” arrived in the town a day earlier.

“The militants have the task of simulating the rescue of the victims of the chemical weapons attack dressed in the clothes of the famous ‘White Helmets’,” it said.

Konashenkov accused British special services of being “actively involved” in the “provocation” which will “serve as another reason for the US, the UK and France to hit Syrian government targets with air strikes.”

In April, the US, France and Britain launched joint missile strikes on Syrian targets in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in the town of Douma that left scores dead.

Russian stuck by its ally Syria and angrily insisted the Douma attack was staged by the White Helmets volunteer rescue service.

In Jerusalem on Wednesday, Bolton said Washington was “concerned about the possibility that Assad may use chemical weapons again.” “Just so there’s no confusion here, if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons we will respond very strongly and they really ought to think about this a long time,” Bolton said.

Speculation is increasing that there could be a Russian-backed government assault on Idlib, one of the so-called “de-escalation” zones set up as a result of talks by Russia, Turkey and Iran last year.

On a visit to Moscow on Friday, Turkish Fore­ign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned Russia that seeking a military solution in Idlib would be a “catastrophe” before meeting President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the situation in Idlib is “multi-faceted” and called for separating out “the healthy opposition from terrorist structures.” Damascus still holds the southeastern tip of Idlib, a strategically important province adjacent to Latakia on the Mediterranean coast that is home to Assad’s clan.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2018