Leader comment: Russia cannot be trusted in Syria

Syrians bury the bodies of victims of a a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syrias northwestern Idlib province / AFP PHOTO / FADI AL-HALABIFADI AL-HALABI/AFP/Getty Images
Syrians bury the bodies of victims of a a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syrias northwestern Idlib province / AFP PHOTO / FADI AL-HALABIFADI AL-HALABI/AFP/Getty Images
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In a speech last September, President Barack Obama expressed doubt as to whether the US could expect Russia to help end the bloody civil war in Syria, claiming that there were “gaps of trust” between the two governments. Seven months on, those gaps have become chasms. The very the idea that the Russians could be trusted to act responsibly over one of the most volatile regions in the world now appears fanciful.

Every iota of evidence from the recent atrocity in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province indicates that President Bashir Assad’s forces committed war crimes. The Russian version of events - that an airstrike hit a rebel arsenal, releasing toxic agents - has been roundly dismissed by every serious political actor.

According to Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, the attack “bears all the hallmarks” of Assad’s regime, and it is believed that a nerve agent capable of killing over a hundred people was used.

There is, Mr Rycroft said, no intelligence to suggest rebel groups are capable of accessing the sort of chemical weapons that appear to have been used in the strikes.

The suspected chemical attack has so far claimed 72 lives, with the death toll likely to rise as rescue workers search for survivors. All the while, Russia has opposed a UN resolution drafted by Britain, France and the US which condemns chemical attacks in Syria and urges the government’s cooperation in an investigation.

Russia’s stance is little short of collusion, and for all the frustration that will be felt in the UN at present, it is imperative that more pressure is brought on Moscow as well as the Chinese to ensure Assad makes good on his promise to give up his chemical weapons stockpile.