Britain’s United Nations ambassador has vehemently denied a Russian military claim the UK staged an alleged chemical attack in Syria last weekend, calling it “bizarre” and “a blatant lie”.
Karen Pierce also labelled the Russian allegation as “grotesque”, saying she wanted “to state categorically … that Britain has no involvement and would never have any involvement in the use of a chemical weapon”.
Russia had earlier accused Britain of faking a suspected chlorine gas attack reported to have killed dozens of civilians in the besieged Syrian enclave of eastern Ghouta.
More than 40 people are thought to have died following the attack on the rebel-held town of Douma, drawing international condemnation and prompting Washington and its allies to consider a military response.
Amid heightened tensions over the threat of airstrikes, Russian defence ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov yesterday said Britain was “directly involved in the provocation”.
Earlier, Russian’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the attack had been staged by foreign agents.
Both the United States and France have claimed to have proof of the chemical attack, which Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government denies took place. Russia, which has military forces deployed in Syria in support of the Assad regime, has warned Western air strikes risk starting a war.
Yesterday the Russians released statements claiming to be from medics at Douma’s hospital who said a group of people with video cameras entered the facility, shouting that its patients had been struck with chemical weapons and causing panic. The medics said none of the patients were hurt by chemicals.
Mr Lavrov said Russian experts had inspected the site of the claimed attack and found no trace of chemical weapons.
As fears of a Russia-West military confrontation mounted, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that the highly volatile situation risked “escalation, fragmentation and division as far as the eye can see with profound regional and global ramifications”.
He said “the Cold War is back – with a vengeance, but with a difference” because safeguards that managed the risk of escalation in the past “no longer seem to be present”.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said US president Donald Trump held a meeting with his team to discuss the situation, but “no final decision has been made”.