MOSCOW -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington of applying a double standard in its approach to Syria and said its evidence that President Bashar Assad’s regime used chemical weapons is unconvincing.
“It is very odd to hear … my good friend, U.S. State Secretary John Kerry, claiming that the U.S. side presented Russians with irrefutable evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria,” Lavrov told students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations on Monday. “We were shown some data which contained nothing concrete: neither geographical coordinates, nor names nor proof that the probes were taken by professionals.”
Lavrov said the United States used a double standard in dealing with Syria and the Middle East in general.
“It is a personal issue based on a personal dislike for some authoritarian dictator, whereas dictators for whom there is no dislike are not talked about because they are assistants and allies for our Western partners,” he said. “Terrorists should not be divided into good and bad; it is absolutely unprofessional and shortsighted.”
Lavrov warned that a planned U.S. strike against Assad would jeopardize the prospects for a so-called Geneva 2 conference on Syria.
“If, to our common regret, the action declared by the U.S. president takes place … it will push the prospects of this forum far away, if not for good,” Lavrov said.
On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Washington’s accusations against Assad’s regime “utter nonsense.”
Russia is sending another navy reconnaissance vessel toward the Syrian coast to assist a group of five boats already based in the Mediterranean.
“Russia is stepping up our navy presence in the area but we will not fight for Assad in this conflict,” Igor Korotchenko, editor in chief of the journal National Defense, said in an interview. “Moscow is just trying to prevent negative global consequences of this strike and primarily for U.S.-Russian relations, which are already at their worst in years.”
Korotchenko said that a U.S. strike would mark a significant new turn in the growing political confrontation between Russia and the United States.
“The fallout from this strike will be far more global than just dramatically aggravating the situation in the Middle East,” he said. “After this strike the Kremlin may irrevocably rethink its dealings with the U.S.A. and may bury for the foreseeable future all prospects of any partnership and any cooperation with Washington.”
Russian lawmakers say they intended to apply pressure on their U.S. counterparts before Congress votes on a strike against Syria. The speaker of the Russian parliament’s lower house, Sergei Naryshkin, told Putin that Russian lawmakers are asking U.S. lawmakers to take a balanced stand in their vote.
As unlikely as it may seem that members of Congress would be swayed by Russian arguments, Naryshkin insisted that his colleagues had influenced the debate on Syria in other countries.
“Last week we addressed … lawmakers of [European] countries and it turned out useful as parliaments of a number of European countries are taking a very balanced and sound position,” Naryshkin said in televised remarks during a Kremlin meeting with Putin on Monday. “So I think this special kind of work with U.S. congressmen could be of use.”
Putin approved the initiative, calling it “timely and right.” He added: ”I think your U.S. colleagues could have a better understanding of what the position of the Russian Federation is based on.”