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US is planning attacks on Damascus to blame Assad, claims Putin

Sky News logo Sky News 11/04/2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin © Getty Images Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin

Vladimir Putin has claimed he has information that the United States is planning a fresh wave of airstrikes in Syria.

The Russian president said Moscow had also received intelligence about planned fake chemical weapons attacks with the sole purpose of pinning the blame on Bashar al Assad's regime.

Russia has rejected suggestions from the outset that the Syrian government was behind a gas attack in Idlib province which killed more than 80 people, including many children.

The US retaliated with airstrikes on a Syrian airbase from which it believes the chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun was launched. 

Both the Syrian regime and Russia have denied they were involved. Mr Putin appealed to the United Nations to launch an official investigation into the attack.

He compared the allegation levelled at Mr Assad to how the US justified its intervention in Iraq in 2003. Claims that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction were never proven.

Related: Putin "toxifying" Russia's reputation with support for Syria's Assad - Boris Johnson
(Provided by Reuters)

Putin "toxifying" Russia's reputation with support for Syria's Assad - UK foreign minister
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His comments came as Turkey confirmed sarin gas was used in the attack in northern Syria - and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow for crucial talks on Syria.

G7 foreign ministers earlier rejected British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's calls to broaden sanctions against Russia and Syria. Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano said Russia must not be "pushed into a corner" over Syria.

But speaking in a tougher tone than his Italian counterpart, Mr Tillerson said Russia had a choice - to align itself with the US and like-minded nations, or with Mr Assad, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah.

He said it was unclear whether Russia had failed to take its obligations in Syria seriously, or whether it was incompetent, but he said the distinction "doesn't much matter to the dead".

He said another chemical weapons attack could not be allowed to happen, adding: "It is clear to us the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end."

Mr Johnson had seen the G7 summit as a game-changing moment and had called for new sanctions to be imposed on Syrian military figures and Russian military individuals responsible for backing them.

But the question of added sanctions had barely been mentioned in the meetings, according to French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

The outcome has fallen well short of that, with the countries agreeing there could be no Syrian peace deal with Mr Assad in power.

However, it was unclear how the group of seven nations expected Mr Assad's departure to be brought about. Sky's Foreign Affairs Editor Sam Kiley, in Moscow, said: "At the moment Russia holds all the cards when it comes to the future of the Assad regime.

"It is very much in Russia's gift, alongside Iran of course which is a very significant player, to put pressure on the Assad regime to participate in a transition out of power if it so chose to go down that route.

"Given that they are militarily very much with the upper hand on the ground in Syria against the Syrian rebels, I don't think they're minded to take that route at all in Moscow, not least at a time when they are being talked at from their perspective, lectured by the international community on what should go on in Syria.

"I think that the message they will want to deliver is 'we want some respect in this context'."


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