MOSCOW — Russia sharply criticized the new report on Syria’s chemical arms use on Wednesday as biased and incomplete, hardening the Kremlin’s defense of the Syrian government even while pressing ahead with a plan to remove its arsenal of the internationally banned weapons.
The Russians also escalated their critiques of Western governments’ interpretations of the UN report, which offered the first independent confirmation of a large chemical-weapons assault Aug. 21 on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, that asphyxiated hundreds of civilians.
Although the report did not assign blame for that assault to either side in Syria’s civil war, analyses of some of the evidence it presented point directly at elite military forces loyal to the Syrian president, Bashar Assad. The United States, Britain, France, and human rights and nonproliferation groups also say that the report’s detailed annexes on the types of weapons used, the large volume of poison gas they carried, and their trajectories all lead to the conclusion that the forces of Assad were culpable.
The Russian criticism came as the five permanent members of the Security Council began a second day of negotiations at the UN on a draft resolution aimed at ensuring that the Syrian government honors its commitment to identify and surrender all chemical munitions for destruction, as it agreed to do under a deal negotiated Saturday by Russia and the United States that averted a punitive US missile strike on Syria.
Russian news reports quoted the country’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, as saying during a visit to Damascus that the Syrian government had provided additional information that showed that insurgents used chemical weapons not only Aug. 21, but also on other occasions.
‘We are unhappy about this report. We think that the report was distorted. It was one-sided. The basis of information upon which it is built is insufficient.’
The Syrians offered no such information to the UN chemical weapons inspectors before they left Syria with a trove of forensic samples on Aug. 31. The inspectors have said they would return to Syria to investigate other allegations, but no dates have been announced.
Ryabkov spoke after meeting with Assad and his foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem. He did not disclose the precise nature of the additional information the Syrians had conveyed to him, but he was blunt about his criticism of the report presented Monday at the United Nations.
“We are unhappy about this report,” Ryabkov said in remarks broadcast by the state television network, RT. “We think that the report was distorted. It was one-sided. The basis of information upon which it is built is insufficient.” He also said Russia needed “to learn and know more on what happened beyond and above that incident of Aug. 21.”
His remarks came a day after Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, also questioned the UN report. Lavrov, who brokered the agreement with Secretary of State John Kerry to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international supervision, said Tuesday that there were still “serious grounds to believe” that the Aug. 21 attack was a provocation carried out by the rebel side.
Asked about the Russian criticisms, Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said it had been clear to everyone that the inspectors were focusing first on the Aug. 21 attack because of its magnitude and were planning to return to Syria to investigate other suspected assaults involving chemical munitions, with a more comprehensive report to be compiled thereafter.
Nesirky also took issue with the Russian portrayal of the report as biased.
“The findings in that report are indisputable. They speak for themselves,” he said. “This was a thoroughly objective report on that specific incident.”
France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, who had just visited with Lavrov, reacted angrily to the Russian accusations, saying they had surprised him. “Nobody can question the objectivity of the people appointed by the UN,” Fabius was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying at a news conference in Paris.
Russia, which like the other permanent Security Council members has veto power over any resolution, is resisting coercive language in the draft offered by the Western members that could lead to military intervention in Syria.
The Russian position, despite evidence that others say is abundantly damning of Assad’s forces, appeared intended to sow enough doubt to call into question additional pressure on Syria’s government, and perhaps to cloud evidence that at least some of the country’s arsenal was of Soviet origin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also asserted in an opinion page article in The New York Times last week that there was abundant evidence to believe that the rebels had carried out an attack using chemical weapons to force international intervention.