Russia announced Monday that its navy was ready to escort ships carrying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile out of the country. Moscow also said it would help move the deadly toxins to the port in Latakia over land.
“We will be ready to provide Russian navy ships to escort those vessels with toxic agents in order to provide the safety of this operation,” Reuters quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying.
The chemical weapons are to be transported out of the Latakia port by Denmark and Norway aboard two cargo vessels, along with frigates from their navies. They will then be destroyed at sea on a special American ship.
While Moscow prepared to cooperate with other world powers on ridding Syria of its chemical arms, a senior official lashed out Monday at the US and its allies on the UN Security Council, calling into question the attack that prompted the deal to destroy those very weapons.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN told the council that the dramatic August 21 attack that led to Syria agreeing to give up its chemical stockpile was “staged” and a “large-scale provocation.”
Vitaly Churkin compared it to the “manipulation of public opinion” that led up to the US invasion of Iraq. He read reporters the statement he delivered to council members.
The current council president, French Ambassador Gerard Araud, told reporters only that members had an “acrimonious exchange.”
The spirited session came as the council received its first briefing from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the final report of a UN inspection team that last week said chemical weapons probably were used in Syria several times.
The team did not have the mandate to say whether the Syrian government or opposition fighters were responsible for the attacks.
Russia is Syria’s most powerful ally, and it has used its veto power in the council in the past to block actions against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
The British ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, tweeted after Monday’s session, “Russia uses Giant Squid Defence – squirt lots of ink in attempt to muddy waters on regime culpability. Doesn’t work.”
Churkin did not explicitly mention the United States in his accusation over the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Ghouta, in which the US government said more than 1,400 people were killed.
But Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said of the US and its efforts to prepare all sides for peace talks next month in Geneva, “You cannot be an arsonist and a fireman at the same time.”
Ban on Monday again demanded that those responsible for the chemical weapons attacks be held accountable.
He told the council that it has a “primary role in bringing perpetrators to justice” because it repeatedly has said the use of weapons of mass destruction is a serious threat to international security.
But how that would happen is not clear. Araud said the issue was not discussed at Monday morning’s session.
The UN inspection team concluded that chemical weapons were probably used in four locations in Syria, in addition to the confirmed use of the deadly nerve agent sarin in Ghouta, near Damascus, in August.
Chief inspector Ake Sellstrom last week said “more intrusive methods” than those authorized for his investigation are needed to pinpoint the perpetrators.
“I could speculate … but I don’t have information that will stand up in court,” he said.
A commission created by the UN Human Rights Council has already determined that both sides have committed heinous war crimes during the Syrian conflict. The Geneva-based commission is producing a confidential list of suspected criminals.