First of all, the Russia narrative is not at all beneficial. It denies, as usual, any facts that do not suit it, such as the fact that its ally/follower, the Syrian regime, is being accused of charges that could be embarrassing for Russia if the international community highlights them. Such accusations include the use of internationally banned chemical weapons, used in Muadamiyat Al-Sham in August 2013, in Khan Sheikhun in April 2017 and in Douma in April 2018. None of this was of interest to Russia, which considers these acts to be typical military actions carried out in any war.
During the first incident, Russia said its satellites showed a team of elements from the opposition striking Muadamiyat Al-Sham with chemical weapons, but its agreement with the US to liquidate Syria's chemical arsenal included sanctioning the regime, which it agreed to. For the second incident, Russia had been operating in Syria and not even a bird could fly in Syria's airspace without showing on its radars. Despite this, it denied what happened in Khan Sheikhun, but the US retaliated with a missile strikes on Shayrat airport, so Russia decided to question the UN investigation. Before succeeding in closing the case, Duma was attacked with chemical weapons and the denials were repeated. However, Washington considered Russia to be directly responsible for the attack.
The other narrative of what the city Douma experienced is the result of techniques and expertise that accumulated within the Syrian opposition and medical teams, who do not allow areas to be militarily isolated before sending samples and evidence to specific Western capitals which are concerned with exposing the truth behind the use of internationally banned weapons, including toxic gas. This is the only means of catching the Syrian regime red-handed and to pinpoint and condemn its actions in order to prosecute it, regardless of Russia's efforts to protect the regime and disrupt the Security Council every time it tries to hold it accountable, exactly how the US acts towards Israel.
The regime had used every kind of weapon, including ballistic missiles, against cities and towns, and after intervening to save it, Russia used new deadly weapons. However, they crossed a red line when the regime used chemical weapons and this cannot be neglected or overlooked, otherwise the use of these weapons would become common and "almost legal". Despite all of this, the American-British-French response was no more than symbolic and for show; why? First, because the US and Russia do not want a face off against each other, despite the challenges and threats they have exchanged. Secondly, because any attacks that aim to undermine the regime put Syria at risk of falling in to Iran's hands. Also, in 2013, the argument against attacking the regime was that the country would fall into the chaos of the rivaling Islamists.
Hence, the red lines are clear to all parties. The Americans and Russians are avoiding provoking each other, while the Iranians and Israelis are avoiding challenging the Russians. This allows Moscow to continue managing affairs in a manner that achieves everyone's goals, one way or another, on the condition that they do not go against Russia's will.
Based on this, Russia is considered responsible for the use of chemical weapons, as Bashar Al-Assad's regime cannot carry out such an attack without orders from the Kremlin, or, at the very least coordination with it. Russia may have ordered this because it wants to shake up the stagnant American policies regarding an international reconciliation, but the problem with Russia is that it isn't working on resolving the Syrian crisis, but instead is managing it and trying to invest in it and gain from it. Therefore, it is working hard to organise conflicting military actions even if by means of the most complicated and complex settlements. It can't, however, recognise the most obvious ideas for the political solution because it, along with its ally, the Al-Assad regime, find no benefit in any "real" solution until it manages to resolve the crisis militarily with Iran.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Arab on 16 April 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.