Russia warns US of 'grave consequences' of further intervention in Syria

Niamh McIntyre
Mr Lavrov held a tense press conference with Rex Tillerson earlier this week: Getty

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has strongly warned the United States against launching new strikes on Syria.

Mr Lavrov, who hosted representatives from Iran and Syria in Moscow on Friday, said that further US intervention in Syria would entail “grave consequences not only for regional but global security”.

“We have reiterated our position that the attack was an act of aggression, which blatantly violated the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter.”

“We call on the US and its allies to respect Syria’s sovereignty and refrain from actions similar to what happened on 7 April.”

Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem said the meeting sent a “strong message” to Washington. Iran's Mohammad Javad Zarif emphasised that the participants warned that any unilateral action by the US was unacceptable.

The US launched a strike involving 59 missiles on a Syrian government airbase in retaliation for an apparent chemical gas attack on the town Khan Sheikhoun.

The majority of the international community has blamed the attack, which killed more than 80 people people including many children, on the forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

However, Russia says it has seen no evidence that proves the regime was behind the attack.

Russia has alleged that the victims were killed by toxic agents released from a rebel chemical arsenal and warned against putting the blame on Damascus until an independent inquiry has been conducted. Moscow vetoed a Western draft UN resolution on Wednesday – which would have mandated the Syrian government to comply with an investigation – saying it failed to mention the need to inspect the area of the attack.

While 10 nations voted in favour, Russia and Bolivia vetoed the resolution, while China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia abstained.

At the talks with Iran and Syria, Mr Lavrov accused the US and its allies of what he described as attempts to stymie an international probe into the attack. He expressed scepticism about a preliminary investigation conducted by the UN chemical weapons watchdog, saying its experts had failed to visit the site and it had remained unclear to Russia where the samples had been taken and how they had been analysed.

In Russia's view, the probe conducted by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) should be widened to include experts from many nations, he said.

“If our US colleagues and some European nations believe that their version is right, they have no reason to fear the creation of such an independent group,” Mr Lavrov added. “The investigation into this high-profile incident must be transparent and leave no doubt that someone is trying to hide something.”

Mr Lavrov said the US strike on the Syrian base has undermined peace efforts in Syria and reflected Washington's focus on ousting Mr Assad’s government. “Such attempts won't succeed,” Mr Lavrov said.

The three ministers also discussed the beefing up of US forces on Jordan's border with Syria, Mr Muallem said. He added that Russia, Iran and Syria have “common procedures against any aggression,” but wouldn't offer any specifics.

Mr Lavrov that Moscow has asked Washington about the purpose of the buildup and received assurances they were there to cut supply lines between the Islamic State group factions in Syria and Iraq.

“We will keep monitoring the issue, since the only possible reason for using military force on the territory of Syria is to fight terrorism,” Mr Lavrov said.

President Putin suggested on Wednesday that unnamed forces in Syria were working to “frame” the Assad regime with further chemical attacks. The Syrian government claimed on Thursday that US claims of its culpability for the incident were “100 per cent fabrication”.

Mr Lavrov met his US counterpart Rex Tillerson in Moscow earlier in the week, but it is clear the talks did little to defuse the escalating tensions between the two countries.

In a strained press conference, Mr Tillerson said there was currently “a low level of trust between our two countries”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that US-Russia relations were at their lowest level since the end of the Cold War.

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