Despite a wealth of evidence from independent arms experts, the United Nations, and Western governments, Russia continues to deny that the Syrian military used chemical weapons last month — a position that has Sen. Lindsey Graham reaching for his pen.
In a letter sent to Vladimir Putin and obtained by The Cable, Graham tells the Russian president to either back up his government’s assertions that rebels carried out last month’s sarin gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus — or stop trotting those claims out in public.
"If you continue to stand by your earlier statements please share the evidence you or your government has collected prompting your declaration that the Syrian opposition is responsible for the chemical weapons attack," wrote Graham.
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to a framework for shutting down Syria’s chemical weapons program. It calls for the elimination of all chemical weapons by the middle of 2014.
"I find it difficult to see how the Russian government can be an honest broker in implementing any plan to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria if you cannot even acknowledge the Assad government was behind the attacks," Graham added.
Russia has been put into a difficult situation following this week’s United Nations report, which provided details about the type of rockets used in the attack and their trajectory — all details that independent analysts say point to the Syrian government.
Following the report’s release, Russia urged western nations "not to jump to any conclusions," but now is openly attacking the report itself as uncredible. "We are disappointed, to put it mildly, about the approach taken by the UN secretariat and the UN inspectors, who prepared the report selectively and incompletely," said Sergei Ryabkov, Lavrov’s deputy.
Interestingly, it does sound like Graham may get what he wants from the Russian side. Earlier today, Russian officials said they received evidence from the Syrian government showing that the rebels carried out the attack. Lavrov did not describe the evidence, but said he would provide it to the U.N. "We will discuss all this in the Security Council, together with the report which was submitted by UN experts and which confirms that chemical weapons were used. We will have to find out who did it," he said.
Penning missives to Russia has become all the rage in Congress following Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times. Graham joins a list of officials, including Rep. Buck McKeon and Rep. Steve Israel. Sen. John McCain has promised to pen an op-ed in the Russian news site Pravda this week. You can read Graham’s entire letter below: