Bodies of victims in a building after an apparent chemical attack, Douma, Syria, April 7, 2018
Russia has said that international inspectors will find the Assad regime responsible for a chlorine attack that killed 43 people in Douma, near Syria’s capital Damascus, in April 2018.
The Russian envoy to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Attacks, Alexander Shulgin, said on Monday that the OPCW will make a finding of attribution.
On March 1, the OPCW’s Fact Finding Mission, in its second report on the April attacks, said that there were “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place”. It pointed to two cylinders, indicating they were dropped from the air, that likely contained chlorine. One canister failed to release the “toxic chemical”, but the other apparently funnelled chlorine through a building where civilians were trying to leave after hiding in a basement. Witnesses told the inspectors that 43 perished.
The FFM does not have the mandate to assign blame. However, a UN decision last year — overriding a Russian veto in the Security Council — has restore OPCW authority to attribute responsibility in a subsequent report.
In October 2017, before the Russian veto, the OPCW found the Assad regime had carreid out a sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria in April, killing about 90 people and injuring others. It has also attributed several cholorine attacks to the regime.
Undermining the OPCW
Anticipating this, Shulgin tried to portray the OPCW as a captive of the US and other powers:
There’s absolutely no doubt that this attribution team will draw the conclusion necessary for the American side, and this will be for the US and their allies yet another reason to maybe carry out new unilateral actions against the Syrian authorities.
Pro-Assad forces carried out a two-month on the East Ghouta area near Damascus, held by the opposition since 2012. Thousands of civilians were killed by air and ground attacks.
The April 7 assault spurred the surrender of rebels in Douma, the opposition center and the last town to hold out against surrender and forced removals.
A week later, the US, UK, and France carried out airstrikes on three facilities connected with the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program.
Shulgin tried to undermine the OPCW’s report, saying it was “full of gaps, discrepancies and inconsistences”. He did not provide any evidence. Instead, he claimed the inspectors had ignored an event organized in Damascus by Russia after the attacks, in which a local man, his son, and medical personnel were presented to deny that the “chemical attack” had been staged.
Observers noted that the supposed witnesses were interviewed by Russian State media after the reoccupation of East Ghouta, with regime security personnel present. They also pointed to inconsistencies in the accounts.
The Russian falsely claimed that inspectors ignored possible rebel links to chemical weapons, “In Douma, there was also a warehouse with chlorine barrels and the [FFM] experts didn’t accept to inspect it, alleging that it was too dangerous to manipulate these items.”
In fact, the OPCW team investigated the site — featured for months in Russian and regime propaganda as a rebel chemical site — and found the cylinders present had no sign of chlorine or any banned chemical.
Shulgin pressed on, “My impression is that the [OPCW] Technical Secretariat experts simply didn’t dare to contradict the version put forward by the Americans, who didn’t hesitate to designate the Syrian authorities as the main culprits.”
Having done his best to undermine the OPCW, he added, “[We are] trying to be constructive. We’re not questioning the competence of OPCW Technical Secretariat experts. We’re ready to work further.”