‘Rus­sians have stopped ex­perts visit­ing scene of chem­i­cal at­tack’

Syria: Relations ‘worse than cold war’ as May hits out

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - NEWS - BY DAVID HUGHES

Theresa May ac­cused Rus­sia of pre­vent­ing in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors from reach­ing the site of the Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons at­tack as relations with Moscow de­te­ri­o­rated fur­ther.

A diplo­matic storm erupted as the Of­fice for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons (OPCW) said that Syr­ian and Rus­sian of­fi­cials had claimed there were “se­cu­rity is­sues” which prevented a fact-find­ing mis­sion from reach­ing Douma, where around 75 peo­ple are thought to have died in the at­tack.

Rus­sia sug­gested the mis­sile strikes launched by the UK, US and France were part of the rea­son why the chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog could not travel to the scene of the at­tack.

It strongly de­nied in­ter­fer­ing with the work of in­spec­tors at­tempt­ing to reach the site of the atroc­ity which the UK and western al­lies have con­cluded was per­pe­trated by the Syr­ian regime of Moscow’s ally Bashar As­sad.

Rus­sian for­eign min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov said relations be­tween Moscow and the west were worse than at the time of the cold war.

He said the UK, Nato and Euro­pean Union had closed the normal chan­nels of communication with Rus­sia which pro­vided safe­guards against con­fronta­tion.

“I think it is worse, be­cause dur­ing the cold war there were chan­nels of communication and there was no ob­ses­sion with Rus­so­pho­bia, which looks like ‘geno­cide by sanc­tions’,” he said.

Up­dat­ing MPs on the mil­i­tary ac­tion, the prime min­is­ter said it would not have been worth wait­ing for the OPCW’s findings in Douma be­cause Rus­sian ve­toes at the United Na­tions meant no blame could be ap­por­tioned for the at­tack.

“Even if the OPCW team is able to visit Douma to gather in­for­ma­tion to make that as­sess­ment – and they are cur­rently be­ing prevented from do­ing so by the regime and the Rus­sians – it cannot at­tribute re­spon­si­bil­ity,” she said. Mrs May ac­cused Rus­sia and Syria of at­tempt­ing to cover up the at­tack.

“The Syr­ian regime has re­port­edly been at­tempt­ing to con­ceal the ev­i­dence by search­ing evac­uees from Douma to en­sure sam­ples are not be­ing smug­gled from this area, and a wider op­er­a­tion to con­ceal the facts of the at­tack is un­der way, sup­ported by the Rus­sians,” she told MPs.

At a meet­ing of the OPCW in The Hague, di­rec­tor-gen­eral Ah­met Uzumcu said the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s team had ar­rived in Da­m­as­cus on Satur­day but “has not yet de­ployed to Douma”.

“The Syr­ian and the Rus­sian of­fi­cials who par­tic­i­pated in the prepara­tory meet­ings in Da­m­as­cus have in­formed the FFM (fact-find­ing mis­sion) team that there were still pend­ing se­cu­rity is­sues to be worked out be­fore any de­ploy­ment could take place.”

The UK’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive Peter Wil­son said: “It is imperative that the Syr­ian Arab Re­pub­lic and the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion of­fer the OPCW fact find­ing mis­sion team their full co-op­er­a­tion and as­sis­tance to carry out their dif­fi­cult task.”

Rus­sian diplo­mat Dmitry Polyan­skiy said “all the ob­sta­cles” for the OPCW mis­sion were the re­sult of the US, UK and French “ag­gres­sion” and the possibility of fur­ther strikes.

Mr Polyan­skiy, Rus­sia’s first deputy per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the UN, said: “If you go to a site which was just bombed I imag­ine you might have cer­tain lo­gis­tic prob­lems. And there are no western guar­an­tees of no more strikes, only words.”

Relations be­tween Rus­sia and the UK have been plunged into the deep freeze fol­low­ing the nerve agent at­tack on Sergei and Yu­lia Skri­pal in Sal­is­bury.

Mr Lavrov de­nied that Rus­sia had “tam­pered” with the site of the Syr­ian at­tack – and he in­sisted there was no proof that chem­i­cal weapons had been used.

“The Syr­ian regime has re­port­edly been at­tempt­ing to con­ceal the ev­i­dence”

Protesters wave flags in sup­port of Pres­i­dent As­sad in Da­m­as­cus yes­ter­day

Theresa May has claimed a cover-up

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