The U.S. and its allies are on a “slippery slope” to military intervention in Syria that will have “extremely dangerous” consequences for the region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Any military intervention without UN Security Council approval would be “a gross violation of international law,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow today. He ruled out a Russian military response.
World leaders from Washington to Istanbul called for action to punish Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad for what they said was his use of chemical weapons as United Nations inspectors attempted to probe the allegations. Some Syrian opposition groups say 1,300 people were killed in the Aug. 21 attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.
“Western leaders are making statements that indicate that they won’t wait for the results of this commission, they have already decided everything,” Lavrov said. “It’s a very dangerous slippery slope that our Western partners have gone on before. I hope common sense prevails.”
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain is convinced Assad was behind the Aug. 21 attack and that there was agreement with the U.S. and France on the need to respond. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country will join a “coalition” against Syria if the UN fails to act.
The accusations are “nonsense,” Assad said in an interview with Russian newspaper Izvestia published today.
“First they make an accusation and only then search for evidence,” he said.
Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council which has blocked all resolutions condemning its Soviet-era ally Syria, yesterday urged the U.S. not to “repeat past mistakes” like the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq. The U.S. and its allies attacked Iraq without UN approval after Russia, France and Germany refused to endorse the military operation to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Syria with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron by telephone today, according to a statement on the Kremlin’s website.
U.S. statements expressing readiness for involvement in Syria’s more than two-year conflict have set off “deep alarm” in Russia, Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone conversation yesterday, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on its website.
There are “multiple indications” that the Syrian opposition staged the attack to incriminate Assad’s government, Lavrov said.
Syria and the UN agreed yesterday to the inspection of the Ghouta area. The agreement five days after the purported attack is too late because the constant shelling of the area may have corrupted or destroyed evidence, according to a senior U.S. administration official in an e-mailed statement.
U.S. intelligence officials and international partners have concluded that chemicals were used, based on the reported number of victims, described symptoms of those who were killed or injured in the attacks, witness accounts and other facts gathered, according to the U.S. statement.
As inspectors started their investigation of some of the areas allegedly targeted, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence said the use of chemicals was “clear,” while French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it was “obvious” the weapons had been used and that the “massacre’s origin comes from the regime of Bashar al-Assad.”
Assad had no motivation to use chemical weapons against his opposition, according to Lavrov.
“The Syrian government had absolutely no military or political reason to use chemical weapons,” Lavrov said at a press conference. For the opposition, though, “it’s in their interests to provoke outside strikes on the regime by staging such an attack.”
An attempt by the UN officials to visit the site of the attack was halted by sniper fire today, a spokesman for the Secretary-General said in an e-mailed statement. Syrian authorities and opposition activists blamed each other for the gunfire. The UN team plans to return to area.
The sniper attack happened in rebel-controlled territory, Lavrov said, adding that it appeared aimed at thwarting the UN mission.
Any military action not endorsed by the UN would destroy efforts to reach a peaceful settlement in Syria and escalate the conflict in the Middle Eastern nation, inflaming the entire region, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.