The United States on Thursday accused Russia of helping Syria conceal the use of banned toxic munitions in the civil war by undermining the work of the global chemical weapons agency trying to identify those responsible. In effect, Russia is behind laundering Assad crimes against humanity.
The comments by the U.S. representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Kenneth Ward, drew, as expected, a denial from Moscow. It came as Western powers and Russia clashed at the agency’s annual conference in The Hague.
TWO FORMER DISGRUNTLED OPCW EMPLOYEES
Moscow has for months cited dissent by two former OPCW disgruntled employees who leaked a document and an email as evidence that the OPCW doctored the conclusions of a March 1 report. The report found that the Assad regime used a toxic chemical containing chlorine in a 2018 attack near Damascus.
On April 7, 2018, Assad killed more than 40 people in that attack in Douma. The small town is part of the Damascus suburbs.
The United States, Britain and France retaliated a week later by firing 59 missiles at Syrian government targets. Although analysts considered a big Western military action against the Damascus regime of terror, it did not achieve its objectives. Assad has since gassed his own people on several occasions.
Syria and Russia deny there ever was a chemical attack in Douma. Both are saying that the rebels staged the event using bodies brought from elsewhere, and that the OPCW’s report on Douma was doctored to justify Western military intervention. Despite overwhelming evidence of Assad gassing Douma.
RUSSIA FEARS THE OPCW REACH
The OPCW has become the battleground for a diplomatic clash on Syria after Russia in 2017 vetoed a resolution to extend the mandate of the U.N.-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM). That mechanism concluded in a series of reports that the Assad regime used both nerve agent sarin and chlorine as weapons.
The OPCW’s own Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), which was established by a clear majority vote by its member states in June 2018, is looking into who was responsible for the Douma attack, among several other incidents.
Its first report is expected next year. Russia is attempting to discredit the OPCW to discredit its findings that Assad is a criminal.
It is to Russia’s interests to undermine the OPCW for fear Assad crimes might eventually lead to prosecutorial finale.
Russian Ambassador to the OPCW, Alexander Shulgin, repeated objections to the creation of the IIT. Syria’s representative to the OPCW on Thursday vowed not to cooperate with the IIT’s investigations.
Ward said Russia and Syria were merely seeking to cover up the use of chemical weapons by undermining the OPCW. He told the delegates:
Unfortunately the Russian Federation has played a central role in this cover-up. Russia and Syria may sit with us here, but they stand apart from us in a fundamental way. They continue to embrace chemical weapons.