The White House is growing increasingly frustrated with Russia’s obfuscation surrounding a recent Syrian chemical weapons attack and Moscow’s penchant for disinformation in defense of Bashar Assad’s regime.
Officials on Tuesday also said they believe they have identified the strategic rationale behind the attack, which shook the new president and resulted in U.S. airstrikes on a Syrian regime airbase.
“The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017,” a document provided by a senior White House official on Tuesday reads.
The document estimated that “the attack resulted in at least 50 and up to 100 fatalities (including many children), with hundreds of additional injuries.”
“We assess that Damascus launched this chemical attack in response to an opposition offensive in northern Hamah Province that threatened key infrastructure,” the document said, pointing for the first time to a potential motive for the attack. “Senior regime military leaders were probably involved in planning the attack.”
The White House is also slamming Russia for what it called a campaign of “disinformation” to cover up for the regime’s attack and a “clear pattern of defecting blame.” Moscow has suggested the attack may have been the result of a regime air strike on a terrorist ammunition depot that housed chemical weapons. The White House dismissed this defense, and said evidence clearly shows the attack was an intentional move by the Syrian regime.
“Russia’s allegations fit with a pattern of deflecting blame from the regime and attempting to undermine the credibility of its opponents,” the White House document said. “Moscow’s response to the April 4 attack follows a familiar pattern of its responses to other egregious actions; it spins out multiple, conflicting accounts in order to create confusions and sow doubt within the international community.”
A senior White House official also said it was “quite concerning” that the attack took place after Russia was supposedly involved in helping Syria give up its chemical weapons in a deal negotiated under the Obama administration.
The White House is also pointing to the close level of coordination that has been taking place between the Russian and Syrian militaries.
The senior White House official said it is “a question worth asking the Russians…how it is possible,” given that coordination, that Moscow was not aware the chemical attack was set to take place.
National security officials are also voicing concern about further chemical attacks, given Assad’s willingness to deploy chemical agents in the past.
“We take very seriously the possibility that Syria may have additional agents elsewhere,” a senior White House official said, noting the U.S. is working to locate those munitions.