The U.S. on Thursday accused Russia of helping Syria cover up its use of banned chemical weapons in its years-long civil war by working to prevent the global chemical weapons agency from finding those responsible.
The U.S. representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Kenneth Ward, told the body that Moscow is responsible for helping Damascus mask the use of chlorine and sarin gasses to kill scores of civilians.
“The Syrian Arab Republic possesses and uses chemical weapons,” Ward told delegates. “For many years, we have listened to the Syrian Arab Republic try to fill this room with falsehoods thinking they can cover up what is going on. Everybody in this room knows what’s going on.”
“Unfortunately the Russian Federation has played a central role in this cover-up,” he added. “Russia and Syria may sit with us here, but they stand apart from us in a fundamental way — they continue to embrace chemical weapons, a truly grotesque residue of the 20th century.”
The remarks drew a swift rebuttal from Moscow, whose delegation said external investigators found information that contradicted the conclusions of an OPCW report saying that a chlorine attack in the town of Douma killed over 40 people.
“Could this mean that fact-finding mission expert conclusions did not meet the expectations which some countries had pinned on all of this?” asked Russian Ambassador to the OPCW Alexander Shulgin
“These assertions do not hold water. We disagree,” he added.
Moscow for months has cited dissent from two former OPCW employees who leaked documents alleging that the body had doctored the conclusions of the report on the Douma attack.
The chlorine assault is one of the highest-profile incidents of the Syrian war, after which the U.S., Britain and France retaliated by firing missiles at Syrian government targets. Damascus and Moscow continue to maintain that bodies were brought in from elsewhere and that the OPCW report was manipulated to justify Western military intervention.
The OPCW has emerged as a chief battleground for the diplomatic clash over Syria. The body’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), which was created after a vote by its member states last year, is investigating who was responsible for the Douma attack, among several other incidents. It is expected to release its first report in 2020.