National Security Desk / April 11, 2017

Putting Pressure on Putin

The U.S. says Russia knew about the chemical attack and covered it up. Trump’s strategy is to isolate Moscow.

In 2014, then-Secretary of State John Kerry boasted, “We got 100% of the chemical weapons out.” He was referring to the Obama administration’s 2013 deal with Russia to remove all of Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons from Syria. As we have covered thoroughly since then, so much for that.

But that deal might provide the clearest understanding for the latest development in the saga. The U.S. has accused Russia of having advanced knowledge of a pending chemical attack, while Moscow did nothing to stop it — and in fact, may have helped try to cover it up. According to the Associated Press, “The official said that a drone operated by Russians was flying over a hospital as victims of the attack were rushing to get treatment. Hours after the drone left, a Russian-made fighter jet bombed the hospital in what American officials believe was an attempt to cover up the usage of chemical weapons. The U.S. official said the presence of the surveillance drone over the hospital couldn’t have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment.”

As the Washington Examiner’s David Freddoso summed it up, “We’ve just accused Russia of committing one war crime to cover up another.” Why?

The Leftmedia will obviously want us to believe Donald Trump is making a convoluted attempt to kill the false narrative of his collusion with Russia to win the 2016 election. Killing that narrative may be a side benefit of this whole affair, but it’s clearly not the primary motive for Trump. What this accusation does do, however, is isolate Russia on the world stage. Before heading to Moscow for diplomatic discussions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson basically said as much. “We want to create a future for Syria that is stable and secure,” Tillerson said on Tuesday. “Russia can be part of that future and play an important role or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group which we believe is not going to serve Russia’s interest longer term.”

Then he turned the screws regarding the 2013 deal. “Stockpiles and continued use [of chemical weapons] demonstrate that Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on its 2013 commitment,” Tillerson said. “It is unclear whether Russia failed to take this obligation seriously or Russia has been incompetent, but this distinction doesn’t much matter to the dead. We can’t let this happen again.”

Certainly, putting Vladimir Putin on the hot seat for defending Assad is the Trump administration’s play here. We’ll see if it works.

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