Russia is again warning of a new potential chemical provocation in Syria at the end of a week in which US National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened Damascus with a “very strong” military response should allegations emerge amidst the Syrian Army campaign to liberate Idlib.
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said on Saturday per state-run TASS:
A provocation with an alleged chemical weapons use in Syria, which terrorists are plotting to stage with the assistance of UK special services, will serve as a pretext for missile strikes by the West and the United States against the Arab country, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday.
According to the Russian general, the provocation will be staged by terrorists of the Hayat Tahrir ash-Sham terrorist organization (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra outlawed in Russia) and for this purpose eight containers with chlorine have been brought to the Idlib province.
The mention of UK special forces and “eight containers” of chlorine suggest that Russia is claiming to possess some level of specified intelligence.
The Russian MoD spokesman added, “Therefore, the actions by Western countries contrary to public statements are aimed at another dramatic escalation of the situation in the Middle East and at disrupting the peace process on the territory of Syria.”
The statements were in response to Bolton’s prior press conference on Wednesday from Jerusalem, where he was meeting with Israeli officials. “We now see plans for the Syrian regime to resume offensive military activities in Idlib province,” Bolton said. “We are obviously concerned about the possibility that Assad may use chemical weapons again.”
Bolton warned, “Just so there’s no confusion here, if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons we will respond very strongly and they really ought to think about this a long time.”
Meanwhile Bloomberg confirmed late Friday that Bolton had personally delivered this message to his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev:
U.S. officials say they have information Assad may be planning a chemical attack in the northwestern province of Idlib. At a Thursday meeting in Geneva, National Security Adviser John Bolton told his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, that America is prepared to respond with greater military force than it has used against Assad’s regime in the past, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the content of talks hasn’t been publicly disclosed.
Bolton’s reported message of “greater military force” is particularly alarming given that over the past two Aprils the US has launched tomahawk missile and air attacks on Syrian government locations after chemical allegations by al-Qaeda groups battling Assad. The last involved over a hundred missiles that destroyed government locations in and around Damascus.
Sensing that Washington could be preparing another round of attacks, the Russian MoD pointed out that “the US Navy’s destroyer Sullivans with 56 cruise missiles on its board arrived in the Persian Gulf several days ago while a B-1B strategic bomber of the US Air Force armed with AGM-158 JASSM air-to-surface missiles was redeployed to the Al Udeid air base in Qatar,” according to TASS.