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Moscow says 'no convincing proof' of Damascus' use of chemical weapons

OPCW experts have failed to present incontestable evidence of Damascus’ use of chemical weapons, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated

MOSCOW, September 6. /TASS/. Experts from the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have failed to find incontestable evidence of Damascus’ use of chemical weapons, hence there are no grounds to insist on sanctions, a top-ranking Russian foreign ministry official told TASS on Tuesday following a report on Syria issued by the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM).

"As for the report’s accusations in respect of Syrian official authorities, we don’t think they are convincing enough," Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the ministry’s non-proliferation and arms control department, said. "Conclusions are entirely based on witnessed accounts from representatives of the Syrian armed opposition or its sympathizers. Bearing in mind their political bias, their evidence inspires little trust. The Joint Mechanism has provided no material proof of Damascus’ guilt in the crimes it is being accused of."

The diplomat drew attention to the fact that JIM experts had no possibility to collect chemical samples, interrogate witnesses and pick up evidence at the scene independently. "By the way, the report openly points to all these drawbacks," he said. "I would like to add that the conclusions are basically based on an assumption of a possible use of warplanes by this of that party. The JIM assumed that only government forces have such a possibility and they have allegedly used barrel bombs stuffed with chlorine in military purposes."

"It has nothing to do with the real state of things," Ulyanov said. "It is known that some time ago militants seized an airbase with at least nine combat helicopters in good condition. No doubt that the armed opposition has former military pilots, including from among the Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi army who can fly such aircraft. The report ignores these circumstances."

"One of the two episodes blamed on the Syrian Air Forces is linked with an absolutely improbable situation," he went on to say.

"It is alleged that a barrel bomb filled with a toxic substance was dropped from a Syrian helicopter from a high altitude and hit an air inlet of about the same diameter in a living house. If so, it looks like a world record of bombing accuracy. Can it be taken seriously?"

According to the Russian diplomat, the report has more evidence that make one doubt the JIM experts’ conclusions.

"The text is abundant in such words as ‘allegedly,’ ‘presumably,’ etc. Not a single national criminal court would pass a verdict of guilty based on such shaky evidence and would obviously refer the case for further investigation. In this context, statements on the necessity of sanctions to be imposed on official Damascus sound rather unconvincingly," the Russian foreign ministry official stressed.