Russian officials today hit back at the United States and its allies after Secretary of State John Kerry warned Monday that the Syrian government would face consequences for last week's alleged chemical weapons attack.
A statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry this morning warned of "catastrophic consequences" for Syria and the region if the United States and its allies intervene. It also expressed "serious disappointment" after the United States announced it would back out of a meeting this week with Russian officials to plan a long-delayed peace conference.
That conference seems a long way off now. A main Syrian opposition group reportedly said that it would not attend peace talks after last week's attack.
Since the alleged chemical attack Wednesday near Damascus, Russia has joined the Syrian government in casting doubt on disturbing videos posted online of the aftermath, showing rows of dead bodies without visible trauma wounds or blood and survivors shaking uncontrollably.
The Foreign Ministry reiterated such doubts today, accusing the West of creating "artificial unfounded pretexts" as an excuse to get involved militarily.
The possibility of Western military intervention into the Syrian conflict has spooked the Russian government, which is one of the few remaining backers of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally.
But beyond its own interests, Russian officials have repeatedly voiced concerns that Western intervention would only further destabilize the region. On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that the United States and its allies were behaving recklessly. He repeatedly drew comparisons to the U.S.-led operations in Iraq and Libya, which he said spread extremism and violence to neighboring countries.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's deputy prime minister, offered a more colorful analysis.
"The West behaves in the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade," he tweeted in Russian.
Russian officials have also suggested that the evidence of the Assad regime's responsibility for the attack was falsified much like the faulty intelligence that the Bush administration cited as justification for its invasion of Iraq in 2003.
One unnamed Russian diplomat was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency calling Kerry's pointed remarks "blatantly very pompous."
"It strongly resembled a certain period a decade ago, when such over-the-top enthusiasm on the part of American administration representatives was running high in an attempt to prove that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," the official is quoted saying. "It is well known what happened as a result of this enthusiasm."