Russia took its war of words with the West to a new level Friday, accusing Britain of having staged the Douma chemical attack as a “false flag” operation to justify U.S. airstrikes on Syria.
The Kremlin’s narrative: The U.K-funded Syrian medical group the White Helmets faked the April 7 attack in Douma with the help of the British government. The idea was first floated by lower-ranking Russian officials earlier in the week. But by Friday it was being pushed by some of the Kremlin’s most powerful men, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov told a press briefing that Moscow had “irrefutable evidence that this was another staged event, and that the secret services of a certain state that is now at the forefront of a Russophobic campaign was involved in this.” He provided no evidence for the claim.
At a subsequent briefing, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov went further and named Britain as the government allegedly responsible, claiming it was intended “to prod the United States to launch missile strikes against Syria.”
He claimed Britain had told the White Helmets, who work as first responders in rebel areas, to fake the alleged attack. He released statements purportedly from medics at Douma’s hospital who said a group of people with video cameras entered the hospital, shouting that had been affected by chemical weapons. The medics said none of the patients had been affected by chemicals.
The World Health Organization, citing medical partners on the ground, said Wednesday that 43 of the dead had symptoms “consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals.”
Russia’s ambassador to the U.K., Alexander Yakovenko, also said Friday that the White Helmets were behind the incident. On Wednesday, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov had accused the White Helmets of fabricating the attack, while a Russian military spokesman made similar claims.
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, responded by calling the Russian claims “page one of their information operations playbook.”
“It’s important to remember that Putin isn’t just a murderous liar, he’s a murderous liar with a strategy,” he said. “Lies are the backbone of Putin’s foreign policy. Moscow constantly works to create fog and doubt, uncertainty and confusion.”
A team of international investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is due to begin its investigation in Douma Saturday.
Cover image: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov attends talks with his Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Friday, April 13, 2018.