Chemical attack in Douma was staged, says Russian ambassador
Yury Filatov tells reporters Moscow losing ‘last bit of trust’ for western partners
Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov, speaking to media at the Russian embassy in Rathgar, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
There was no evidence that the alleged chemical weapon attack in the Syrian town of Douma, which prompted a joint US, British and French retaliatory attack last weekend, had ever actually happened, the Russian ambassador to Ireland said on Tuesday.
On the other hand, if there was a chemical weapons attack, it was probably done by Syrian jihadists against their own people, he suggested. Then again, however, Russia’s own experts found no evidence of any chemical attack.
Both seemingly contradictory perspectives were themselves in further contrast to the position, enunciated on April 13th by the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and a spokesman for the Russian defence minister on the same day.
At that time, Russia claimed that the attack had been engineered by Britain. During a press briefing, Mr Lavrov said he had “irrefutable evidence” that the attack was staged as part of a “Russophobic campaign” led by one country, which he did not name.
Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia’s defence ministry, said: “We have . . . evidence that proves Britain was directly involved in organising this provocation.”
In Dublin on Tuesday, ambassador Yury Filatov invited the media to hear another version. He began by stating that the situation around Syria had deteriorated significantly.
“Obviously that is the result of the reckless actions by Washington, by London and Paris,” he added, suggesting that the western allies were now looking for a “face-saving exit from the situation they themselves created”.
“They are trying to whitewash their actions. There is very much smoke around the whole thing. But we have to call things for what they really are.”
Whatever happened in Douma – “the alleged attack”, said Mr Filitov – occurred on April 7th and two days later, Russia sent in its experts.
“We had our team of military experts in chemical, bio and this kind of hazard things, visited the site and they did not find any traces of chlorine or any other toxic agents,” said the ambassador. “More than that, not one, not a single local resident was able to confirm that a chemical attack had actually taken place.”
A reporter asked: “What do you think happened then, if it wasn’t a chemical weapons attack?”
“It’s not for me, you know, to hypothesise the whole thing,” Mr Filitov said. “We just have to wait.”
Nonetheless, he earlier offered this explanation, in support of his assertion that the alleged attack “had definitely been staged”, while also holding to the view that there “was no attack”.
“We have witnesses from the hospital,” he said, “where the famous video has been shot, that the whole thing has been developing as follows: the, you might call it, normal life in the emergency room was going on with people being treated for whatever illnesses et cetera.
“Then, all of a sudden, a few people rushing in, shouting there had been a chemical attack and starting to pour water, you know, wash the people that have been panicked.
“At the same time, two or three other people making footage of this, of the whole commotion, which was immediately transferred to YouTube on the media networks and that was it.
“That was not the first [time] the so-called white helmets and associated with them other organisations made this things. Well, unfortunately, they made a really bad, bad reputation for NGOs there in Syria.”
He expected that on Tuesday or Wednesday, the inspection team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) would be able to go in, once their “protocols” were sorted out. It was “absolutely ridiculous” to suggest that Russia and Syria were preventing international inspection while they removed evidence of the attack.
There was a “strong feeling” that the US-UK-French air strikes, launched on Saturday against what the allies said were chemical weapons facilities at two locations, were “intended to impede the [Douma] investigation so that nobody would know really the truth”.
The entire episode was damaging to international trust, said the ambassador. “We in Russia are losing the last bit of trust we have had with our western partners, which is certainly a very dangerous development.”
The ambassador and his staff drew the media’s attention to comments by Mr Lavrov in Moscow on April 14th relating to what had happened to the former Russian agent and defector to Britain, Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
Mr Lavrov claimed that a report by the Swiss Federal Institute for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection examined samples from Sailsbury, where the Skripals were poisoned, and sent them to the OPCW.
The samples indicated the presence of BZ, a nerve agent, said Mr Lavrov.
“This composition was in operational service in the armies of the US, the UK and other Nato countries,” said the foreign minister, stating that he was quoting the Swiss institute’s report. “The Soviet Union and Russia neither designed nor stored such chemical agents.”
Asked about this week’s claims by Britain that Russia was behind sustained cyberattacks aimed at western countries, the ambassador said such claims were part of a pattern that sought to portray his country as “the evil empire and the source of all evil in the world – which is, really, a ridiculous concept”.
“We are not engaged in any cyberattacks against anybody. This is not the kind of behaviour or attitude of Russia. It’s simply a lie,” said the ambassador.