The White House is accusing the Russian government of spreading disinformation and propaganda about the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in a deadly attack earlier this month.
“I think it’s clear that the Russians are trying to cover up what happened there,” White House officials told reporters on Tuesday about chemical attacks carried out on April 4 in Khan Shaykhun.
Between 80 and 100 people were killed in the onslaught, many of them children. President Trump responded by ordering 59 Tomahawk missiles launched at Seyrat airfield, where chemical agents were stored.
In Tuesday’s briefing, several officials laid out the case that military forces controlled by Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, used sarin gas in the attacks and that the Russian government has worked to obfuscate the narrative to deflect blame away from its ally.
They said that signals intelligence, geospatial intelligence, and physiological evidence taken from victims of the attack point to the Assad regime’s use of sarin.
The officials said that the administration is “very confident” that terrorist and rebel groups opposed to Assad’s regime did not carry out the attack or have access to sarin, a deadly nerve agent.
The Syrian and Russian governments have claimed that rebel groups waged the attack as a false flag to provoke the West.
The officials stopped short of saying that the Russian government knew that the Assad regime was planning the attack. One senior U.S. government official told the Associated Press on Monday that Russia knew an attack was in the works. But a spokesman for the Department of Defense discounted that report later on Monday.
“I’ve seen nothing that corroborates this definitive statement,” Major Jamie Davis told the Daily Caller on Monday. “We continue to review the available intelligence surrounding this incident.” (RELATED: DOD Discredits Associated Press Report Claiming Russia Knew About Syrian Chemical Attack In Advance)
“There’s not a consensus on our side” about whether Russia knew of the attacks in advance, one official said in the briefing.
“We do think it is a question worth asking the Russians about how is it possible that their forces were co-located with Syrian forces that planned, prepared, and carried out chemical weapons attack at the same installation and did not have foreknowledge.”
The officials also said that persons associated with Syria’s chemical weapons program were spotted at Shayrat airfield in late March.
“On the day of the attack they were again present at the airfield,” an official said.
One official concluded the briefing with an invitation of sorts to the Kremlin.
“This is an opportunity for the Russians to stop the disinformation campaign and make a commitment to accept what happened and work forward to eliminate WMDs from Syria together.”