The chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun: why is the West not interested in the truth? (by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko)

There are speculations about the chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 flared up by the recent report by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria (FFMS). On the surface, this report looks somewhat respectable, has been welcomed by some countries as a “highly professional” piece of work and even hailed to have provided incontestable evidence of Damascus’ guilt for the “chemical attack”.

Russia’s assessments of this document are much more reserved. Its quality leaves much to be desired and let me explain why we think so.

First of all, it did not honour the basic chain-of-custody principle: FFMS’ experts failed to obtain on-site biomedical and environmental samples, as is required by the standard procedure. The samples were obtained in another country and from other people. Will it stand scrutiny in a court of law, or is it a kangaroo court, we’ve got to put up with?

Secondly, the report contains no information on how exactly sarin was used. It merely notes that members of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission were unable to reach any definite conclusions on this matter, although this aspect is a key element of establishing the truth.

Thirdly, the results of the investigation would be much more complete if OPCW experts actually visited the Shayrat Airbase where the sarin, used in Khan Sheikhoun, was allegedly stored. It is not only us who insisted on this but also the Government of Syria that pledged to guarantee complete safety. Unfortunately, OPCW representatives wouldn’t make from this trip under a pretext that doesn’t hold water.

Against this backdrop, Washington’s claims that the Syrians were allegedly once again planning to use the Shayrat Airbase for a chemical attack look odd, to say the least. If US partners are really confident about this, then they should grab the chance to visit this facility to obtain evidence they want. But they continue to emphatically refuse to do this.

From the very beginning, Russia considered it necessary to pay serious attention to the probability that the incident was staged. But the OPCW FFM report completely overlooks this aspect. At the same time, available photo and video materials deserve to be studied, not ignored. And it’s not just Russia, who has doubts. Independent experts, including from US, are pointing at multiple conflicting data. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Theodore A. Postol has conducted the appropriate technical analysis refuting the free-fall bomb theory. On June 29, 2017, Scott Ritter, an outstanding US expert on disarmament and chemical weapons, published a detailed article on this topic in The American Conservative.

We believe that a more thorough investigation should be immediately launched to establish the truth. In particular, it is necessary to focus on learning how this poisonous gas was delivered to the site of the incident. The international community deserves better than being duped by terrorists, whose invasion of Syria 5 years ago started the tragedy in their country.