MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Wednesday claimed that Syrian rebels were planning to stage a chemical attack to give the U.S.-led coalition a pretext to strike Damascus.
Lavrov’s claims came after he and the Russian military warned Tuesday that any such strike by the U.S. coalition would lead to Russian retaliatory steps in Syria and “very serious” consequences.
They spoke after U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that the United States was ready to act in Syria “if we must” to address the use of chemical weapons and “inhuman suffering”.
“New provocations with the use of chemical weapons are being prepared – performances will be organized in Eastern Ghouta, among others,” Lavrov told reporters Wednesday.
“Under this pretext there are plans to use force by the U.S. coalition including against the Syrian capital,” he said, adding that he hoped “such irresponsible plans will not be realised”.
Lavrov’s remarks follow a statement by the chief of the Gen. Staff Valery Gerasimov who on Tuesday raised the specter of a direct clash between Russian and U.S. troops in Syria.
Gerasimov claimed that Moscow had “reliable information that fighters are preparing to stage the use by government troops of chemical weapons against the civilian population”.
He alleged that the U.S. plans to accuse Assad’s troops of using chemical weapons against civilians and then “carry out a bombing attack” on Damascus.
He warned Russia would “take retaliatory measures” if the U.S. targeted areas where its military are staying in the Syrian capital.
“Russian military advisers, representatives of the Centre for Reconciliation and members of military police” are currently in the Syrian capital, Gerasimov said.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and Russia, its ally in the war, has questioned U.N. findings that Damascus carried out sarin and chlorine attacks.
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his supporters have consistently claimed that chemical and other attacks were in fact staged, and that an army of actors including children has been trained to fake injury on a massive scale.
Gerasimov’s comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin told the American network NBC in an interview released last week that “we know about fighters’ plans to stage the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army”.
Putin insisted that the Syrian government has “long ago” destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons and dismissed accusations against Assad and Russia.