Wall Street Journal
September 7, 2013
Russian President Blames Syrian Rebels for Gas Attack
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to continue supplying weapons and humanitarian aid to Syria in the event of a U.S. strike and rejected U.S. and European conclusions that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus.
“Will we continue to help Syria? We will,” Mr. Putin said after a 20-minute meeting with President Barack Obama at a summit here of the Group of 20. “We’re helping them now. We are supplying arms, cooperating in the economic sphere.”
Mr. Putin said he and Mr. Obama came no closer to an agreement on Syria, and he blamed Syrian rebels for the Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack.
The Russian leader, who has opposed a military strike in Syria and served as one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest allies, said he had a “very meaningful, constructive and friendly conversation” with Mr. Obama.
But at the end of it, each stuck to his opinions. “I don’t agree with his arguments, and he doesn’t agree with mine,” Mr. Putin said.
The G-20 summit concluded with 10 members, including the U.S., supporting a statement calling for a strong international response against the Assad regime, and 10 members refusing to sign. Spain, a permanent guest at the G-20, signed the statement.
The broad rejection to Mr. Obama appeared to have emboldened the Russian president, who made a strident case against a military strike against the Syrian government.
His tone contrasted the G-8 meeting in Northern Ireland in June, where Mr. Putin appeared isolated and his defense of Mr. Assad underscored a rift with the group’s seven other members.
The Russian president appeared reassured at the end of the G-20 on Friday. In a closing news conference, he said seven of the G-20 countries, in addition to Russia, were “categorically against” military action in Syria, plus the U.N. secretary-general and the pope. He also noted the British Parliament’s rejection of military action and Germany’s refusal.
Mr. Putin has said the international community must wait for the verdict of U.N. inspectors who visited sites of alleged chemical-weapons attacks.
On Friday, he stepped up his argument, presenting without evidence an alternate version of events that blames the attack on Syria’s rebels.
“Everything that happened with the so-called chemical weapons use—it was a provocation from the side of the insurgents, who are counting on outside help from the countries that have supported them from the start,” Mr. Putin said. “This is the whole point of the provocation.”
Mr. Putin’s comments on Friday appeared designed to bolster one of the key tenets of his foreign policy: Opposition to what he sees as an unhealthy unipolar world dominated by the U.S., where American intervention abroad threatens the sovereignty of other countries.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Putin said the U.K. Parliament’s decision to break with the U.S. and vote against military action in Syria showed “there are people who value their sovereignty, analyze the situation and have the courage to make decisions for the benefit of their own countries.” Mr. Putin told the Associated Press. “It is a very good sign, it shows that the multipolar world order has indeed been strengthened.”
Mr. Putin on Friday decried any possible U.S. military intervention as a violation of international law and demanded that any effort by the international community to resolve the situation in Syria proceed through the United Nations. Russia more than once has vetoed United Nations Security Council resolutions designed to pressure Mr. Assad’s regime.
On Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power accused Russia of holding the Security Council hostage on the issue and preventing action on the Syrian crisis.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron criticized the Russian position in a postsummit news conference on Friday.
“What was frustrating in some ways about the debate last night is some of the participants were saying, ‘Well, this has to be decided by the U.N. Security Council,’ knowing that they themselves sat on the U.N. Security Council and could veto any decision,” Mr. Cameron said. “We should have learned from some of the genocides we have seen in our world that there is an imperative for a line to be drawn,” he added.
Messrs. Putin and Obama discussed only Syria during their short meeting and didn’t address Russia’s decision to grant asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, Mr. Putin said. Russia is maintaining a dialogue with the U.S., Mr. Putin said, noting that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet in the near future to discuss the Syrian conflict.
The Russian president also warned about the economic implications of further destabilization in the Middle East. “We know: When there are clashes or cataclysms, suddenly the price on energy commodities rises,” Mr. Putin said. “And what does that mean? That means that these prices hamper world economic growth.”
–Alexander Kolyandr and Nicholas Winning contributed to this article.