The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has gained new powers to apportion blame for attacks under a Britain-drafted proposal despite opposition from Russia, which argues the move goes beyond the mandate of the watchdog.
During the special meeting of the OPCW called by the UK in The Hague on Tuesday, London argued that the organization should have the power, not only to investigate whether any suspected chemical attack took place, but also to assign guilt.
On Wednesday, representatives of the OPCW voted 82-24 in favor of the motion brought forward by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Until now, the world’s weapons watchdog only said whether chemical weapons were used – but not who had used them.
Criticizing the motion, Russia said the move was a sign the watchdog was on the brink of collapse.
“The OPCW is sinking like the Titanic,” Russian ambassador to the Netherlands Alexander Shulgin told reporters. “It looks like the collapse of the organization is currently in the making.”
Shulgin did not rule out Russia, which joined the OPCW at its beginnings in 1997, would withdraw from the body, saying “all options are on the table.”
Earlier, Moscow had warned that the changes in the OPCW mandate would turn it into a political tool and infringe upon the “exclusive prerogatives of the UN Security Council.”
The decision came as the OPCW is expected to release its report on an alleged sarin and chlorine gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7, which reportedly killed 40 people.
Western states blamed the Syrian government for the suspected chemical weapons attack, but Syria has rejected the accusations. Damascus surrendered its chemical stockpile in 2013 to a mission led by the OPCW and the UN.
London presents a controversial proposal for expanding the powers of the UN chemical watchdog at a Hague meeting, sparking opposition from Russia and Syria.
Syria and Russia described the Douma attack as a “fake” scenario staged by the so-called White Helmets, a self-proclaimed Syrian opposition civil defense group in the UK.
White Helmets prepare ‘false flag’ chemical attack
Meanwhile, the residents of the Syrian northwestern province of Idlib have warned that the so-called civil defense group White Helmets, which has been blamed for staging suspected chemical attacks in the Arab country, are apparently preparing for yet another false flag attack in the province.
Citing the residents, head of the Russian Center for Syrian reconciliation Major General Alexei Tsygankov said Wednesday that a convoy of six vehicles, bearing the emblems of the White Helmets, had arrived in the provincial capital city of Idlib over the weekend.
One of the trucks was loaded with rockets and canisters containing unknown substances, as well as protective gear and filming equipment, residents said.
Upon arrival in Idlib, four persons, wearing hazmat protection gear, had been loading rockets’ warheads with liquid and some unknown powder. The truck took the missiles in the direction of the town of Maarat al-Numan, south of the city of Idlib, and was later followed by the White Helmets convoy, the Russian general said.
Damascus says Washington’s attempts to embolden the group has exposed its relationship to the terrorist organization.
The group, which operates exclusively in militant-held areas of Syria, has on several occasions become the first to provide footage of alleged chemical attack sites in Syria and the aftermath scenes, including the incidents in Khan Shaykhun in Idlib Province and the town of Douma near the capital Damascus.
White Helmets’ photos and videos served as solid-enough proof for the US and its allies to immediately conduct ‘retaliatory’ strikes against the Syrian government forces in April 2017 and in April 2018.
While Washington briefly stopped financing the group, it has recently released $6.6 million in funding to the White Helmets. US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert recently said Washington “strongly supports” the White Helmets.
Syria has strongly denounced the US decision, saying that that the additional financial support was a clear piece of evidence that Washington has been playing a leading role in supporting anti-Syria militants since 2011.
Syria and Russia have accused the group of having staged a gas attack in the town of Douma in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta on April 7.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has also described the White Helmets as “a branch of al-Qaeda and al-Nusra” militant groups and a “PR stunt” by the United States, Britain and France.
One week after the Douma incident, the trio launched a coordinated missile attack against sites and research facilities near Damascus and Homs with the purported goal of paralyzing the Syrian government’s capability to produce chemicals.