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Monday, September 16, 2013

Russia’s Foreign Minister Still Claims Chemical Attack in Syria Was ‘Fabricated’

Russia’s foreign minister continued to insist that the deadly chemical attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21 “was clearly fabricated” by rebels intent on provoking Western intervention, even as he met with his American counterpart in Geneva last weekend to hammer out a deal to take Syria’s chemical weapons out of the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s generals.

Speaking to Russian state television on Saturday in Geneva, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov presented the framework agreement on Syrian chemical weapons signed that day as a response not to a mass killing by the Assad government but as a way to prevent Syria’s stockpiles of poison gas from falling into the hands of jihadist rebels.

Mr. Lavrov claimed that Russian investigators had established that “militants” were behind a number of previous chemical attacks in Syria, according to a translation of his remarks published on Monday by the Moscow news agency Interfax.

Making only vague reference to “lots of evidence delivered by independent experts onsite,” including “a nun from a local convent” and unnamed “eyewitnesses and Western reporters,” the foreign minister went on to say that the Aug. 21 rocket attack with sarin gas on rebel-held areas outside Damascus had been staged. This was borne out, he said, by “European and U.S. experts, including 12 retired officers of the Pentagon and the C.I.A., who sent an open letter to President Barack Obama to explain how the case had been falsified.”

Mr. Lavrov appeared to be referring to the letter published this month by the American group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. While the group’s letter did suggest that “a false-flag attack” was “possible,” the former intelligence professionals presented no evidence that the gas attack had been carried out by the rebels. Instead, they, too, made only vague reference to “a growing body of evidence from numerous sources in the Middle East” making what they called “a strong circumstantial case that the Aug. 21 chemical incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters.”

This lack of specific evidence, however, did not prevent the Russian government news network RT, or Russia Today, from presenting an interview with one of the men who signed the letter, the former C.I.A. analyst Ray McGovern, under the headline, “C.I.A. Fabricated Evidence to Lure U.S. Into War With Syria.”

An interview with a former C.I.A. analyst broadcast last week on the Russian government news network RT, or Russia Today.

Late last month, Mr. Lavrov argued at a news conference that one of several “reasons to doubt the rebel narrative” was the claim “in some blogs” that video clips showing victims of poison gas “had been posted on the Internet hours before the chemical attack against the opposition forces was announced.”

As The Lede explained in a post debunking that conspiracy theory, however, that claim was made by pro-Assad bloggers who were confused about which time zone is used by YouTube to assign dates to video clips uploaded from Syria to the company’s California servers. The United Nations report published on Monday said that rockets loaded with poison gas had struck the outskirts of Damascus in the early morning on Aug. 21. Video uploaded to YouTube at any time before 10 a.m. local time in Syria that day would have been automatically assigned the date in California at that time, Aug. 20.