A Russian official has claimed to have received evidence of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian rebels, and dismissed a UN report suggesting the Syrian regime used poison gas as unreliable.
Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also slammed a UN report on an August 21 chemical weapons attack in the Syrian capital Damascus, which killed over 1,000 people, as "politicized and one-sided." The report - which concluded that Sarin gas had been used in the attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb - did not explicitly apportion blame for the attack, but western leaders claimed it was proof that the Assad regime was indeed behind the deadly attack.
But Ryabov rejected the report's reliability, saying that inspectors only examined evidence of the August 21 attack, and ignored three previous incidents of alleged chemical weapons use.
He also claimed to have been handed evidence by the Syrian government which pointed to the use of chemical weapons by rebel forces.
His comments came following a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem in Damascus.
Russia is a key ally of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, providing material support to his forces on the ground, as well as diplomatic support in the arena of international politics. Most notably, Russia holds a veto-position on the UN Security Council, and - along with fellow veto-wielding power China - has staunchly opposed any international intervention in Syria.
The Russian government has long voiced its skepticism over allegations of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime - although Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently brokered a deal whereby the regime would hand over its chemical weapons stockpile to international observers, in order to fend off threat of military intervention by western forces.
The Syrian government for its part has consistently denied its involvement in such attacks, and regularly issues counter-claims suggesting the use of chemical weapons by rebel battalions. By publicly lending its support to such counter-claims, the Russian government is signalling its continued and unreserved support for the Assad regime.