Russia keeps saying the West is planning chemical attacks in Syria — and it's a sign Assad may be about to use them again

  • The Syrian regime is preparing to assault the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, although the attack is not yet certain.
  • The Russian Defence Ministry in at least the last week has pushed a narrative about possible upcoming staged chemical attacks in Idlib.
  • And it’s a sign that the Syrian regime may use chemical weapons again.

As the Syrian regime sets its sights on the last remaining rebel stronghold of Idlib, the Russian Defence Ministry in at least the last week has pushed a narrative about possible upcoming staged chemical attacks in the rebel-held province.

“Russian MoD: White Helmets Preparing to Stage Chemical Attack in Idlib” read one headline by Sputnik, a Russian state-owned media outlet, on Tuesday.

“US plans to use fake chemical weapons attack to strike Syria – Russian MoD,” one headline by the Russian state-owned media outlet RT read on Monday.

The list goes on, and it’s a sign chemical attacks may be launched again – but this time in Idlib, the last Syrian rebel stronghold fighting the Assad regime.

In fact, it’s the same rhetoric Moscow used before the deadly chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta in April.

“E Ghouta Militants Plan to Stage Chemical Attack to Blame Gov’t – Damascus,” read one Sputnik headline in mid-March, about a month before the Ghouta chemical attack that killed dozens.

“This is textbook,” Jennifer Cafarella, a senior intelligence planner at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider. “They have done this consistently in the lead up to the use of chemical weapons. So I think it’s a serious possibility that they will use it again.”

“It is incredibly conniving,” Cafarella added.

In early May, The New York Times and Bellingcat virtually recreated the scene to convincingly show how Syrian helicopters dropped chlorine barrel bombs on Eastern Ghouta.

In July, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that chlorine gas was used in the Eastern Ghouta attack in April, but didn’t assign blame to the attack.

However, Russian and Syrian regime forces blocked OPCW inspectors from the site of the attack for weeks after the attack.

Despite intense strikes by the US, the UK and France, the Syrian regime ultimately achieved its mission in Eastern Ghouta, driving the rebel group Jaysh al-Islam from the region.

“Assad and Russia don’t use chemical weapons simply for the sake of using chemical weapons,” Cafarella said. “They intend to cause an effect with chemical weapons that they then can exploit by advancing on the ground.”

Nevertheless, it’s still an open question as to whether an attack on Idlib will actually happen.

“The Turks are blocking the offensive,” Cafarella said. “The Turks and Russians continue to frame their discussion from the lens of cooperation, but that’s not actually what’s happening.”

Cafarella said that Turkey may allow a partial offensive in Idlib, but that Ankara can’t afford “to have another massive Syrian refugee flow towards the Turkish border.”

On Thursday, the United Nations called on Russia, Turkey, and Iran to hold off on the Idlib assault, fearing a humanitarian disaster for the province’s nearly 3 million civilians, and that chemical weapons could be used by either the Syrian regime or militants themselves.

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