Russia: Support for Assad is 'not unconditional' (Updated)

With the entire world furious over the use of chemical nerve agents against sleeping children in Syria, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladmir Putin, says Russian support for the Assad regime is “not unconditional.” Nevertheless, Peskov repeated Russia’s dubious claim that the nerve agents were spread after bombs hit a chemical weapon depot on the ground. From the Associated Press:

Peskov told The Associated Press in an interview that “unconditional support is not possible in this current world,” but added that “it is not correct to say that Moscow can convince Mr. Assad to do whatever is wanted in Moscow. This is totally wrong.”…

Peskov said Russia expects a full international investigation into the attack before the U.N. Security Council considers any resolution condemning the chemical attack that he described as “very tragic.” Doing otherwise, he said, would be “simply unfair in terms of international law.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory on the town’s eastern outskirts. Asked what proof Moscow has for that assessment, Peskov said that Russia is the only legitimate foreign power on the ground in Syria and therefore has “more wide information about what is going on there.”

Turkey announced today that autopsies on the bodies of some of those killed in the attack confirmed they were in fact killed by chemical weapons. From the Washington Post:

Autopsies conducted on three victims by Turkish doctors confirmed that chemical weapons were used in a daybreak strike widely attributed to the Syrian government, providing the most concrete evidence to date of why so many people died.

“According to the preliminary results, the findings suggest that the patients were exposed to a chemical substance (Sarin),” the statement said.

A British chemical weapons expert quoted by the BBC yesterday said dropping a bomb on Sarin would destroy it, not spread it. And U.S. intelligence sources are saying this has the “fingerprints” of an attack by the Syrian regime:

Despite this, I’ve seen some argue it would be counter-productive for Syria to use chemical weapons since their use would only discredit their ongoing war effort. That makes a certain sense, but what it overlooks is that Syria has already used chemical weapons multiple times in this conflict. The use of sarin in August 2013 was confirmed by investigators who said the nerve agent came from the stockpiles of the Syrian army:

The team of independent experts, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, said that chemical agents used in the Damascus suburb of al-Ghouta on Aug. 21 and in Khan al-Assal near Aleppo in March 2013 bore “the same unique hallmarks”.

“The evidence available concerning the nature, quality and quantity of the agents used on 21 August indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military, as well as the expertise and equipment necessary to manipulate safely large amount of chemical agents,” the investigators said in the report.

The investigators didn’t lay the blame directly on the Assad regime but made clear it was difficult to see how anyone else could have done it. More recently, a United Nations investigation confirmed that Syria had used chemical weapons at least twice even after agreeing to a joint U.S.-Russian plan give up all of its chemical weapons. It’s a bit of a stretch to say Syria would never do this when we know they have done it before. And just like before, Syria is denying everything while Russia protects the regime at the United Nations.

Update: From NBC News, the U.S. military knows who dropped the chemical weapons:

Syrian fixed-wing aircraft dropped chemical weapons on civilians in Idlib earlier this week, two U.S. military officials told NBC News.

The U.S. military saw the aircraft on a radar and watched them drop the bombs, the officials said. The radar soon picked up the flashes and booms in the rebel-held area of Syria…

Soon after, civilians on the ground began responding in a way that is consistent with exposure to a nerve agent documented in horrific images of people writhing in pain, coughing and young children gasping for air.