Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Russia and the weapons inspectors

Will Moscow change its tune on Syria chemical attacks?

By Brian Whitaker

Last Saturday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was still claiming that the attacks had been "fabricated" in order to "provoke a retaliation strike against the regime" of Bashar al-Assad.

Yesterday though, after publication of the inspectors' report, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador at the United Nations, was far more circumspect."The report is diligent but very technical," he said. "It avoids categorical judgments and inferences, and it needs to be studied."

While pointing out that the report offers no "bulletproof data or conclusions" as to who ordered the attacks, he continued: "As people examine it, everyone can draw their own conclusion, but I hope that won't be driven by political motives."

It's hard, of course, to regard Russia's position – its eagerness to exonerate the Assad regime at all costs – as driven by anything other than political motives, but we'll let that pass.

Although Russia's official line on the attacks looks increasingly unsustainable it has not been put directly on the spot because the inspectors were prevented from making "categorical judgments and inferences". Russia's best option, therefore, may be to say as little as possible from now on regarding who was responsible.

Despite the lack of judgments and inferences in the report, however, there is plenty of material for others to make inferences.

The sheer quantity of chemicals used points to a government source rather than the rebels, and Åke Sellström, head of the inspection team, has since told reporters that quality of sarin found in Ghouta was of a higher quality than that used by Saddam Hussein in Iraq's chemical weapons programme – which again points to a government producer....."

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