Russian Support Of Syria Could Be Tested After Latest U.S.-Led Coalition Attack

Russia continues to defend Syria even in the face of evidence of prohibited chemical weapons use.

Surface-to-air missile is seen over the skies of Damascus.
Hassan Ammar / AP Images

Russia continues to defend Syria even in the face of evidence of prohibited chemical weapons use.

Since 2015, Syria has benefited from the support of Russia under President Vladimir Putin. That support has consisted of “troops, armor, and aircraft,” according to a report from Time. It has also been in the form of a voice on the U.N. Security Council. Most recently and relating to an April 7 chemical weapons attack in Syria, the Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzia, “expressed doubt about the claims of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime, suggesting it was a fabrication by the West as a pretext for intervention in the country,” according to Fox News. In the face of substantial evidence to the contrary, Russia’s pushback on behalf of Syria and Assad is significant.

It was in September 2013 that Russia reached a deal with the U.S. that was to destroy Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons. By October 31 of that year, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) “confirmed that Syria’s declared equipment for producing, mixing and filling chemical weapons had been destroyed,” as per a report from the BBC.

But by January 2014, there had already been “delays in transporting the chemicals along the main highway between Damascus and Homs.” This led to concern that, early on, the agreement was going to be breached. Under the agreement, it was agreed that the estimate was “1,000 tons of chemical weapons, including the blister agent, Sulphur mustard, and sarin nerve agent.”

Putin has supported Syrian President Assad even in the face of Assad's continued use of chemical weapons on his own people.
  Mikhail Klimentyev / AP Images
By August 2014, the chemical weapons previously turned over by Syria had been destroyed. However, according to the Arms Control Association, on September 10 of that year, “the OPCW confirmed that chlorine gas is being used in Syria.” Less than one year after the U.S.-Russian agreement, President Assad of Syria was again using chemical weapons. This after he had claimed to have turned over all such weapons for destruction. That move by Assad demonstrated that Putin was either unwilling or unable to curtail both Assad’s production or use of such weapons.

It remains to be seen if Russia will eventually move to align Syria with the 2013 agreement. For now, it doesn’t appear that Russia is heeding the call by U.S. State Department Press Secretary Heather Nauert who said that Russia “needs to take responsibility.” In fact, Russia may be doing just the opposite. According to the same Fox News report, the Pentagon reported “there has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls online in the last 24 hours,” to push a “Russian disinformation campaign,” which means, at least for now, Russia is still supporting Assad, even if he is using banned chemical weapons that he denies having.