VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters/AFP) - Russia's President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that it would be "utter nonsense" for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons when it was winning the war, and urged United States President Barack Obama not to attack Syrian forces.
Speaking after the United States released an intelligence report, Mr Putin rejected communications intercepts as evidence, saying that they cannot be used to take “fundamental decisions” like using military force on Syria.
“Common sense speaks for itself,” he told journalists in Vladivostok when asked about claims that the Syrian army used chemical weapons.
“Syrian government troops are on the offensive and have surrounded the opposition in several regions. In these conditions, to give a trump card to those who are calling for a military intervention is utter nonsense.”
The US said on Friday it was planning a limited military response to punish Syria's President Bashar al-Assad for a "brutal and flagrant" chemical weapons attack that it says killed more than 1,400 people in Damascus 10 days ago.
Mr Putin told journalists that if Mr Obama had evidence Mr Assad’s forces had the chemical weapons and launched the attack,Washington should present it to the United Nations weapons inspectors and the Security Council.
“I am convinced that it (the chemical attack) is nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict, and who want to win the support of powerful members of the international arena,especially the United States,” Mr Putin said.
He also demanded that the US shows proof that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, arguing that failure to do so would mean that none exists.
Saying that such evidence is classified “does not stand up to criticism”, Mr Putin said. “It’s outward disrespect toward partners and world actors. If there is evidence, it must be presented. If they don’t show it, that means there is none.”
“Talk that these are once again some kind of intercepts of some kind of communications that don’t prove anything cannot be used as a basis for such fundamental decisions like using force against a sovereign state,” he said.
"Regarding the position of our American colleagues, who affirm that government troops used... chemical weapons, and say that they have proof, well, let them show it to the United Nations inspectors and the Security Council," he told journalists. "If they don't show it, that means there is none."
The Russian President said Mr Obama, as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, should remember the impact any US attack would haveon Syrian civilians.
World powers should discuss the Syrian crisis at a meeting of the leaders of the Group of 20 developed and developing nations in St Petersburg next week, he added. “This (G-20 summit) is a good platform to discuss the problem. Why not use it?” Mr Putin said.
It was Mr Putin’s first public reaction to the US claims that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21, killing 1,429 people.
The remarks follow a US intelligence report regarding the killings and remarks by US President Barack Obama that the attack is “a challenge to the world”.
Russia, Syria’s vocal and powerful ally, has vowed to block any action against the regime of Mr Assad in the UN Security Council, where it is a permanent member.