Syria

Russia rushes to Syria's defense, claims military base open to check for chemical weapons

How the story has changed now that the Trump administration is blasting Russia on Syria

 

Top Russian officials -- including President Vladimir Putin -- blasted critics of the Syrian regime Tuesday over the apparent chemical attack, suggesting that the resulting U.S. missile strike was based on lies and exaggerations.

"It reminds me of the events in 2003 when U.S. envoys to the Security Council were demonstrating what they said were chemical weapons found in Iraq," Putin told reporters. "We have seen it all already."

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He even said Russia received intelligence that opponents of Syria had planned what he called "provocations" using chemical weapons -- which the world would blame on the Syrian government. He gave no support for his claim. Western analysts have widely said that the evidence suggested a chemical attack carried out by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Still, the Russian military claimed the Syrian government was willing to let international experts examine its military base hit by the missile strike for signs of chemical weapons. Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General Staff added that Russia would provide security for those international experts.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow Tuesday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It was unclear whether he would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well.

Putin said Russia had learned opponents also planned to "plant" some kind of substance in the southern Damascus suburbs but did not elaborate, Reuters reported.

The missile strike early Friday severely damaged the Shayrat air base, which was believed to have been used for last week's deadly attack in Idlib province, according to the Pentagon. The Idlib attack killed some 80 people, including children.

In the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, claims from the U.S. and others emerged that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction, but the claims were never proven.

Putin  said some Western countries have publicly supported last week's U.S. airstrikes on Syria because they are eager to improve ties with President Donald Trump. He also said Russia would appeal to the United Nations to investigate the Idlib attack.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.