4 Sep 2013

Putin rubbishes Syria chemical attack claims

As the US Senate draft a resolution imposing a 90-day deadline on Syria, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin warns the west against taking one-sided action.

On the eve of the G20 summit, Mr Putin warned that military action without UN backing would be an act of aggression.

Speaking to the Associated Press and Russian state television, he said it was “absolutely absurd” to suggest Bashar al-Assad’s forces would risk the international consequences of using banned weapons when they were on the front foot in the battle with opposition forces for that part of Damascus.

“If there are data that the chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the UN Security Council,” Mr Putin said.

“And it ought to be convincing. It shouldn’t be based on some rumours and information obtained by special services through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations and things like that.”

There needed to be “evidence that would be obvious and prove beyond doubt who did it and what means were used”.

Mr Putin however said he “doesn’t exclude” Moscow voting in favour of a military response at the Security Council if evidence was produced proving the regime was behind the attack.

Mr Putin also suggested Russia could supply an air defence missile system – due to be delivered to Syria but presently on hold – to another country if there were strikes on Syria.

That will be seen as a veiled threat to revive a contract to supply Iran, previously cancelled under pressure from the US and Israel.

Meanwhile leaders of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee said they reached an agreement on Tuesday on a draft authorisation for the use of military force in Syria.

Among other provisions, the draft sets a 60-day limit on military action in Syria, with a possibility for a single 30-day extension subject to conditions.

It also includes a provision banning any use of US armed forces on the ground in Syria, according to the draft document, which is due to be voted on by the committee on Wednesday.

If it is approved by the committee, it would be sent to the full senate for a vote after members return on 9 September from their August recess.