According to the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, the chemical attack purportedly carried out by the Syrian military in the Eastern Ghouta area was, in fact, staged by foreign agents, BBC News reported. He went on to declare that there was “irrefutable proof” of this fabrication.
These declarations came after the U.S., the U.K., and France have threatened to launch retaliatory strikes against Damascus in the wake of said attacks. They also declared to have proof that the Syrian government was the perpetrator, according to the Guardian.
President Trump further mentioned that Washington could soon be making missile strikes, although he later backed down slightly while still admitting such attacks could happen sometime in the future.
In response to these allegations and threats, Minister Lavrov declared, this Friday, that the reported staging of the chemical attack in Syria was part of a “Russophobic campaign.” During the U.N. meeting taking place later in the same day, Russian officials accused the U.K. of being the country behind this campaign, CBS News reported.
Furthermore, Moscow admitted the possibility of shooting down missiles aimed at Syrian military installations. This could place Russia and the U.S. in a warpath.
Meanwhile, independent investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are on route to the town of Douma, which was the target of the alleged attack, to gather evidence. These investigators are to arrive at the scene by Saturday, but the details of their movements are kept vague for safety reasons.
This flurry of accusations and counter-accusations has only managed to escalate the already high tensions in the Syrian battle zone.
An emergency meeting in the U.N. was requested by Moscow in order to avoid a disastrous escalation.
Russia has been a staunch defender of President Bashar al-Assad ever since the start of the civil war in Syria. The Russian Air Force has been especially active in the Levant since the start of the direct involvement in 2015.
Tehran has also been supporting Damascus, and it is known that both Russia and Iran intend to secure ports in the Mediterranean for geopolitical and economic reasons. Russia, especially, feels threatened by the encroaching NATO, in spite of the latter having promised to not expand eastward after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Given Moscow’s strategical fears, which are far from unfounded, it makes sense that it would attempt to escape the encirclement and potentially attempt a counter movement of its own.
Even if the relations between Ankara and Moscow are warming up, it stands to reason that the latter wouldn’t want to be dependent on the former for access to the Mediterranean. Although Turkey’s geopolitical stance is questionable at the moment, especially given its involvement in the Syrian crisis, it is still a NATO country.
From NATO’s standpoint, deposing al-Assad and establishing a more Western-friendly regime would further its own interests. Unfortunately, the Syrian battle space has been essentially chaotic, with many factions vowing for control, many of which are quite extreme in ideology and tactics.
This has blurred greatly the Western search for potential allies and replacements for al-Assad. The Kurds seemed like a potential middle-ground, but their mutual enmity with Turkey makes such approach unsustainable.
However, from NATO’s standpoint, Russian cannot be allowed to remain in Syria, which places the Atlantic Treaty in a difficult position.
The results of the emergency meeting taking place this Friday, and the investigation to take place in Douma, will have an important impact in this conflict.
As a final note, one should remember that the Syrian Civil War has been dragging for seven years and caused half a million casualties already. It stands to reason that all parties involved are tired and eager to find a solution.
The issue, though, is that given the divisions in the ground and among the external parties involved in the crisis, there is little hope of a consensus. For factions like Russia or NATO, maintaining the status quo has been the safest approach for years.
Whatever happens, it will probably mean that the Syrians will keep suffering, and most of the world will keep watching.