Russia supports UN probe of possible chemical attack in Syria

Moscow announced support for a UN investigation into Wednesday’s attack, joining a chorus of international calls for both the Assad regime and Syrian opposition to facilitate an independent inquiry. According to a statement released on Friday by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the "Russian side called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the UN chemical ...

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Moscow announced support for a UN investigation into Wednesday's attack, joining a chorus of international calls for both the Assad regime and Syrian opposition to facilitate an independent inquiry. According to a statement released on Friday by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the "Russian side called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the UN chemical experts" immediately following reports about Wednesday's attack. The statement also said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed that the two powers had a "mutual interest" in calling for an objective UN inquiry. China has also backed the UN probe, but cautioned that "all sides should avoid prejudging the outcome." In an interview with CNN on Friday, President Barack Obama called the possible use of chemical weapons a "big event of grave concern" that "is going to require America's attention." While the United States, United Nations, and European Union have called for a swift investigation into Wednesday's attack, all have urged caution in forming a response. Obama told CNN that the United States would carefully weigh a response and must "think through strategically what's going to be in our long-term national interests" before action is taken." Syrian opposition activists say hundreds died in Wednesday's attack, and images have emerged showing mass casualties -- including many children. On Friday, the United Nations refugee agency estimated that the number of Syrian child refugees now exceeds 1 million, or over half of the total 1.9 million Syrian refugees in the region. A further 2 million children are displaced inside Syria, according to the United Nations.

Headlines

Moscow announced support for a UN investigation into Wednesday’s attack, joining a chorus of international calls for both the Assad regime and Syrian opposition to facilitate an independent inquiry. According to a statement released on Friday by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the "Russian side called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the UN chemical experts" immediately following reports about Wednesday’s attack. The statement also said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed that the two powers had a "mutual interest" in calling for an objective UN inquiry. China has also backed the UN probe, but cautioned that "all sides should avoid prejudging the outcome." In an interview with CNN on Friday, President Barack Obama called the possible use of chemical weapons a "big event of grave concern" that "is going to require America’s attention." While the United States, United Nations, and European Union have called for a swift investigation into Wednesday’s attack, all have urged caution in forming a response. Obama told CNN that the United States would carefully weigh a response and must "think through strategically what’s going to be in our long-term national interests" before action is taken." Syrian opposition activists say hundreds died in Wednesday’s attack, and images have emerged showing mass casualties — including many children. On Friday, the United Nations refugee agency estimated that the number of Syrian child refugees now exceeds 1 million, or over half of the total 1.9 million Syrian refugees in the region. A further 2 million children are displaced inside Syria, according to the United Nations.

Headlines

  • Egyptian authorities transferred Hosni Mubarak from prison to house arrest in a military hospital on Thursday, angering Islamist supporters of detained former President Mohamed Morsi and thousands who protested in 2011 for Mubarak’s ouster.
  • Two explosions hit the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Friday, killing at least 12 people outside of two Sunni mosques.
  • Israeli warplanes attacked a target in the Lebanese coastal town of Naameh, south of Beirut, on Friday in response to a rocket attack launched from Lebanon into northern Israel yesterday.

Arguments and Analysis

A Step Too Far‘ (The Economist)

"In recent months, those who previously argued for intervention in Syria have gone quiet. That’s not because the Syrian people are suffering any less — far from it. The death toll is now reckoned to be more than 100,000, 2m people have fled the country and a quarter of the population of 23m is reckoned to be displaced within it. But failure to intervene early has had consequences which strengthen the arguments against intervention. Sectarian chaos in the country has grown, undermining hopes that toppling Mr Assad would bring peace. The more fighting there is between rebel groups, the more damage giving them weapons would do. And al-Qaeda-linked rebel groups have gained strength at the expense of the more moderate ones the West would be happy to see take power. The stronger the radicals become, the weaker the case for arming the rebels.

But the use of chemical weapons would tip the argument back in favour of intervention, for three reasons. First, they are banned by international agreement, and if the rules of war are to have any force, then the world must do its best to ensure that they are respected. Second, however unwilling outside powers are to intervene, the world accepts that there are limits to the atrocities that governments may perpetrate on their people: it was the massacre of 8,000 Bosnians by Serbs at Srebrenica in 1995 that provoked outside powers to intervene decisively in Yugoslavia’s civil war. Third, America’s credibility depends on intervening. Mr Obama made no response to a previous claim of chemical-weapons use. It seems likely that Mr Assad was testing the water to see if he could get away with a bigger one. If he is allowed to, nobody will take American threats seriously, at least while Mr Obama is president. Why should Iran or North Korea, for instance, listen to him hector them about their nuclear weapons programmes?"

How Syria’s Jihadists Win Friends and Influence People‘ (Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Phillip Smyth, The Atlantic)

"The first charitable effort publicized online by Syrian jihadists was carried out by Jabhat al-Nusra, a group best known in the U.S. for its connections to al-Qaeda. In August 2012, Nusra posted a video of a convoy that it drove around to feed villages in eastern Syria. Loaded with cucumbers, tomatoes, canned products, rice, potatoes, cooking oil, bread, and other staples, their trucks could be identified by small paper signs bearing the group’s name, as well as the organization’s characteristic black flag. The posted video also featured car bombings and other acts of violence, all overlaid by a nasheed. The narrative structure of the video depicted these acts of charity as an intrinsic part of jihad.

Provision of aid has been a constant for Nusra and other Syrian jihadists. In December 2012, for example, Nusra bagged and supplied bread for Deir al-Zour’s starving residents. The video that the group released of its provision of services demonstrated the growing bureaucratization of Nusra’s aid efforts: by that point, it had established Qism al-Ighatha, or the Relief Department, which was charged with such efforts.

With this aid apparatus, Nusra has been able to consistently publicize its provision of services, including offering health care to the needy. Similarly, the Syrian salafi force Ahrar al-Sham has a section on its website dedicated to its own social service efforts, with constant posts documenting its work. It’s worth noting that this publicity isn’t always indicative of consistent delivery of services: various hardline groups have been known to post their efforts to social media immediately, even though they only represent sporadic assistance to the community. Social media may in this way serve as a force multiplier that makes their charitable efforts seem more powerful than they really are."

— Joshua Haber

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