Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday called into question the findings of a UN report that confirmed a chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed hundreds of people last month, suggesting the event was a “provocation” by anti-regime forces and calling for a wider investigation.
Lavrov’s comments, made after a meeting in Moscow with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, represent Russia’s first public reaction to the report, which was released on Monday. It firmly established the use of chemical weapons but stopped short of assigning blame.
Russia, which has come under criticism for its perceived sheltering of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has repeatedly rebuffed Western allegations that his government deployed chemical weapons.
“We have the most serious grounds to believe this was a provocation,” Lavrov said, according to the RIA Novosti state news agency. “And some of our partners have unequivocally stated that only the regime could have used chemical weapons, but the truth must be established.”
He added that there was no information about where the weapons were made, and insisted on an "impartial, objective, professional investigation of the events of August 21."
Only then, Lavrov said, should a course of action be decided in the UN Security Council, where Russia has blocked several Western resolutions on action over the crisis.
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Last weekend, Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated a plan to transfer Syria’s chemical weapons to international control and have them destroyed within a year.
Some observers have expressed skepticism over the plan, saying the sheer manpower it requires makes it unrealistic.