A Russian official on Wednesday questioned the validity of a new U.N. analysis of an August sarin nerve agent strike in Syria, raising the possibility that Russia could stymie any moves by the United States and its allies to impose punishment on Damascus for not surrendering its chemical arsenal, Reuters reported.
"We are disappointed, to put it mildly, about the approach taken by the U.N. secretariat and the U.N. inspectors, who prepared the report selectively and incompletely," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told his country's RIA Novosti news agency. He referred to the U.N. forensic analysis, released on Monday, as "politicized" and "one-sided."
The United Nations' analysis confirms chemical weapons were used in the Aug. 21 attack in a suburb of Damacus, but doesn’t assign blame on the government or rebel fighters.
The Syrian regime, meanwhile, has handed Russian officials what Ryabkov on Wednesday described as "evidence that the [Syrian] rebels are implicated in the chemical attack," Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying after he met with Syrian President Bashar Assad's top envoy. Moscow will "examine the Syrian materials implicating the rebels with the utmost seriousness," he added in comments reported by Russian media.
Speaking on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there are "serious grounds to believe that this [Aug. 21 attack] was a provocation" intended to prompt "foreign intervention" against the Assad regime in the Middle Eastern country's bloody civil war, Reuters reported. Lavrov, at a press briefing in Moscow, called for the U.N. findings to be examined alongside a reporter's testimony, statements from "nuns at a nearby convent," and data found online.
Washington's envoy to the United Nations, though, on Tuesday said the U.N. findings "make clear" that last month's strike was the work of Assad's regime. The Obama administration has blamed the incident for the deaths of more than 1,400 people, and only backed away from threats of an immediate military response after hammering out plans with Russia for eliminating the Syrian government's chemical-warfare stocks.
"Rockets that the U.N. says were used in the attack and that tested positive for sarin are the same rockets used by the regime in previous attacks," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power stated at a U.N. General Assembly discussion. "They bore none of the characteristics of jerry-rigged, improvised weapons. They had sophisticated barometric fuses to disperse the nerve agent in the air and not on impact."
U.N. findings also indicate that sarin from the strike was of higher quality than material once stockpiled by Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Power said.
"This was a professionally executed massacre by the [Assad] regime, which is known to possess one of the world’s largest undeclared stockpiles of sarin," she said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius offered a similar take on the U.N. report, Reuters reported. "When you look at the amount of sarin gas used, the vectors, the techniques behind such an attack, as well as other aspects, it seems to leave no doubt that the regime is behind it," Fabius said on Tuesday.
Russia does not want an initial U.N. Security Council resolution on the disarmament plan to endorse armed strikes or other punitive action for possible noncompliance by Damascus, though it has not ruled out allowing such authorization at a later date, envoys told the New York Times for a Tuesday article. Moscow wields veto authority on the 15-nation body.
The United States will "continue to press" for a U.N. measure that permits punitive steps, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Tuesday comments reported by Reuters. Syria's chemical disarmament "will happen only with the United Nations passing a strong resolution. It will happen with the enforcement of the world, with Russia standing by us in this effort," he said.
Still, the United States "reserves the right to take military action" independent of U.N. authorization, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.