Russia says that its diplomats in Washington formally reached out to US officials and have briefed them on an impending plan by al-Qaeda insurgents in Idlib to stage a false flag chemical attack in order to provoke a Western military strike on Damascus.
This week Moscow has claimed to be in possession of firm intelligence that it says shows armed groups in Idlib are transporting chemicals to area sites, in preparation for the coming major Syrian Army and Russian offensive on the contested province in northwest Syria.
According to RT News, it appears that the State Department previously confirmed that the rare meeting did take place:
Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador in Washington, confirmed to the media on Wednesday that he had met with the US special representative to Syria, James Jeffrey, and David M. Satterfield, acting assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.
The attendees of the rare meeting and the fact that it had taken place earlier this week was revealed by US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert during a daily briefing.
The meeting was reportedly held this past Monday, according to Russian Ambassador Antonov, who told RT it was "constructive and professional".
We noted previously that Pentagon and US officials have continued pushing the gambit on Syria, with multiple statements last week and this week which appear to be setting the stage to play the "Assad is gassing his own people" card should so much as an inkling of an allegation emerge.
With the dominant al-Qaeda group in control of Idlib, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), facing imminent defeat in what is likely to be a lengthy, grinding final showdown, they have every incentive to claim Syrian government forces are using sarin or another internationally banned substance.
Considering allegations have been hurled at Assad and the Syrian Army before the Idlib assault has even begun, the past week's war of words signals an unprecedented level of telegraphing intentions for leverage on the battlefield.
Starting last week with John Bolton's promise that the US "will respond very strongly," American officials' threats have gotten progressively more specific, with the State Department spokesperson this week saying "we will respond to any verified chemical weapons use in Idlib or elsewhere in Syria ... in a swift and appropriate manner" while also vowing to "hold Assad responsible".
But it appears Monday's meeting constitutes a back-channel attempt to calm the fast intensifying situation.
RT News continues:
At the meeting, Russia officially conveyed its concerns over reports that Washington together with France and the UK is gearing up for another set of airstrikes in Syria under the pretext of a chemical attack, that would immediately be blamed on the Syrian government. Moscow has asked Washington to "provide the facts without delay" to substantiate the new allegations that Damascus uses chemical weapons against its own people.
Russia's ambassador to the US also reportedly identified the White Helmets as among the actors on the ground assisting in organizing such a potential provocation.
Concerning the specifics of what was shared with the State Department officials at the meeting, RT reports:
Intelligence that Russia has gathered has been shared with the US, and the diplomats were told "in detail" about the provocation against civilians being prepared by Al-Nusra Front (now known as Tahrir al-Sham) in the northwestern province of Idlib.
The Russian Defense Ministry reported earlier that Tahrir al-Sham was plotting a chemical attack that would then be misrepresented as another "atrocity" by the "Syrian regime." Eight canisters of chlorine have been delivered to a village near Jisr al-Shughur city, and a specially trained group of militants, prepped by the British security company Olive, also arrived in the area to imitate a rescue operation to save the civilian "victims." Militants plan to use child hostages in the staged incident, according to Antonov.
Such a scenario sounds similar to what Russia alleges happened in April 2017 in Idlib, where there was never so much as an on-the-ground investigation to collect evidence to back the Khan Sheikhoun claimed "sarin attack" incident, which resulted in the Trump White House bombing Syria on mere "rebel" claims and YouTube videos, before waiting for any confirmed scientific proof to back the claims.
To this day the international chemical investigative body and watchdog, the OPCW, has yet to visit the site due to its being controlled by al-Qaeda forces.
Meanwhile, a former Pentagon official, Michael Maloof, told RT that if a major publicized chemical attack claim is made and is quickly echoed in the media, the "burden of proof" won't matter as Washington and its allies will use it as leverage anyway.
“If history is any precedent, they won’t bother. They did not investigate the last episode before they launched a missile attack into Syria and there’s no reason to suspect that they will this time either,” Maloof said.
“The whole idea is to embarrass Moscow and to intimidate Damascus,” he said.
It appears that Russia is exhausting every diplomatic channel to prevent such a scenario from unfolding; however, mainstream US pundits are already accusing Russia of paving the way for a Syrian regime chemical attack via preliminary propaganda.
However, it's difficult to understand what Moscow and Damascus would stand to gain from doing the one thing that ensures greater Western military intervention at the very moment Assad stands with the clear momentum of victory on this side.