MOSCOW – Russia on Wednesday warned the West that military strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could destabilize the entire Middle East, as it again denied his government was behind a chemical weapons attack.
Moscow’s strong opposition to the growing possibility of Western military action against the Assad regime is opening the way for a major new diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West.
In a telephone conversation with Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy on Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “emphasized the lack of alternative to a diplomatic solution,” the foreign ministry said.
Lavrov added “that attempts for a military solution will lead only to a further destabilization of the situation in the country and the region,” the ministry said.
It said both Brahimi and Lavrov agreed “that at this critical moment all sides — including external players — must act with the maximum responsibility and not repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Russian officials have been comparing the possible use of force against Syria to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which was vehemently opposed by Moscow as based on flawed intelligence that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction.
That intelligence was discredited when the United States went ahead with the invasion but failed to find any such weapons.
In a separate telephone call, Lavrov told US Secretary of State John Kerry that Moscow rejected Washington’s claim the Syrian regime was behind a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus.
The attack — which according to activists claimed hundreds of lives — has prompted Washington and its allies to consider military action against the regime, which the West deems responsible.
“John Kerry put forward judgements which he said were based on information from reliable sources and according to which the Syrian government is to blame for the incidents with the probable use of chemical weapons,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
“This argument was rejected by Sergei Lavrov, who put forward the corresponding position of the Russian side.”
Lavrov said Moscow wanted an objective and substantive exchange of information on the evidence of chemical attacks in Syria.
“Moscow is, as before, particularly worried about the dangerous and already clear line towards a conscious undermining by a number of countries of the conditions for a political-diplomatic solution to the conflict,” the statement added.
Russia has already expressed regret over the United States’ decision to postpone a bilateral meeting on the Syria crisis which was due to take place in The Hague later in the week.
Russia and the United States have since May been seeking to organize a peace conference in Geneva bringing together both the regime and the rebels at the negotiating table.
However the conference has been repeatedly put back and the renewed tensions between Russia and the West over Syria have dealt a further blow to the chances of it ever taking place.
“The decision over massive air strikes on Syria has basically already been taken,” Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, wrote on Twitter.
“The United States has gone too far in its announcements to go back,” he said.