BEIRUT – Cold scenes of Syria re-broadcast during the country’s civil war as chlorine cylinders were thrown from helicopters in cities and villages, causing victims to suffocate for air.
Legal and moral barriers were broken. Hundreds have been killed, including dozens of children, in dozens of poison gas attacks, and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been widely blamed for under the protection of his chief ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Years later, there are growing concerns that such weapons could be used in Ukraine, where Russian forces have been waging a devastating war for weeks.
As the conflict continues, Western officials and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky have warned that Putin could deactivate chemical agents.
“The world must respond now,” Zhelensky said.
Authorities say they are investigating an unconfirmed claim by far-right Ukrainian forces that a poisonous substance was dropped in the besieged city of Mariupol this week. This claim could not be confirmed by independent sources, and Ukrainian officials say it may have been phosphorus explosives – which cause terrible burns but are not classified as chemical weapons.
Lowering the threshold
Putin has threatened to escalate the war in Ukraine into a nuclear conflict, but it is unclear whether chemical agents will be used to support his military operations. Analysts say the Syrian war has set a terrible precedent for the use of chlorine, sulfur and neurotransmitters, completely ignoring international norms and taking no responsibility.
“From what we are looking at now, it seems that Russia has decided that it is safe to continue this operation from Syria in the Ukrainian context,” said Ida Samani, legal adviser to the Swedish-based Civil Rights Defenders. Team.
“Of course, this undermines the international norms we have and reduces the limit on the use of such weapons,” Samani added.
He has joined other NGOs to file criminal complaints on behalf of a group of Syrians living in Sweden against the Syrian government for war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the use of chemical weapons.
Western officials say Russia wants to borrow from Syria’s playbook, which Assad’s forces have tested the determination of the international community by gradually increasing the brutality of its attacks and methods.
Part of Syria’s equation was having difficulty proving anything after such attacks, often due to a lack of immediate access. Assad, with the support of Russia, continued to cast a cloud of confusion, accusing the opposition of using false evidence or poison gas themselves.
An intelligence agency set up by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has blamed Syrian government forces for several chemical attacks in Syria, in which the use of chlorine and sarin killed about 100 people in the April 2017 attack on the city of Khan Shakhoun. At least one mustard gas attack has been blamed on an Islamic State group that has occupied land in Syria and Iraq for years during the war, which has killed half a million people.
In comments reminiscent of Syria, Ukraine accused Russia of running chemical and biological laboratories with US support, leading to allegations that Moscow was trying to stage a false flag incident. Ukraine has a network of biological laboratories that have received financial and research support from the United States – but are part of a plan to reduce the likelihood of deadly outbreaks caused by natural or man-made pathogens. U.S. efforts to dismantle the former Soviet Union’s program for weapons of mass destruction date back to the 1990s.
In the early hours of August 21, 2013, the attack on Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, shocked a world largely devastated by the carnage of Syria’s civil war.
Dozens of online videos showing international outrage, victims of seizures, suffocation and foaming at the mouth. The attack went beyond what then-US President Barack Obama called a possible “red line” for possible military intervention in the Arab world.
Obama came close to ordering US-led military strikes, but abruptly backed down from failing to gain the necessary support from the US Congress and instead signed an agreement with Moscow to remove Syria’s chemical weapons depot.
By August 2014, the Assad government had announced that it had completed the destruction of its chemical weapons. But Syria’s initial announcement to the OPCW is controversial, and the attacks have continued.
In 2017, US President Donald Trump fired dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in retaliation for a nerve gas attack on the rebel-held city of Id Sharif in the city of Id Sharif. Experts from the UN and the Chemical Weapons Surveillance Organization have blamed the Syrian government for the attack.
As Moscow pushes its attack on Ukraine, world leaders and policymakers are fighting over how the West should respond to the Russian battlefield for the use of chemical or biological weapons. Members of Congress said the Biden administration and its allies would not stand if that happened.
However, unlike Syria, Russia is a nuclear power. Any reaction risks triggering a nuclear conflict, which Putin has already mentioned.
Civil rights defenders have been criticized by the international community for failing to make a genuine attempt to hold civilians accountable for chemical weapons attacks.
“For example, there is really no political will in exploring how to set up a special court for Syria,” he said.
Last week, he and a team of NGOs provided investigators in Germany, France and Sweden with new information on the 2017 Khan Sheikhun and 2013 sarin gas attacks on Gouta.
But justice seems to be far away.
“Holding the perpetrators of these crimes accountable for the use of illegal weapons is the first step in ensuring that they do not happen again,” said Hanin Hadat, project director of the Syrian Archive, a Syrian-led program documenting human rights abuses and others. Crimes in Syria.
“Without meaningful accountability, horrible actors and those who help them think they can do terrible things without the real consequences of the international community.”
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