Russia accuses Britain of staging Syria chemical weapons attack

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Russia accuses Britain of staging Syria chemical weapons attackRussia's defence ministry has accused Britain of staging the chemical weapons attack that killed more than 40 people in the Syrian town of Douma on Saturday.   Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov, a military spokesman, said the Russian Army had "proof that testifies to the direct participation of Britain in the organising of this provocation in Eastern Ghouta." Speaking at a briefing in Moscow on Friday, he claimed that Britain ordered the White Helmets, the volunteer rescue service who act as first responders in rebel-held areas, to fake the suspected Sarin and chlorine gas attack.  Dozens of civilians including women and children were killed in the chemical weapons attack in Douma. Western governments including Britain have blamed Bashar al Assad's government, a Russian ally, for the attack.  Donald Trump has threatened to launch missile strikes against Mr Assad's forces in response. Britain and France have backed his call for action.  A girl holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant following a reported gas attack in the rebel-held besieged town of Douma Credit: HASAN MOHAMED/AFP Maj Gen Konashenkov's allegations against Britain came after Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, claimed to have evidence that the attack had been "staged" by foreign powers.  A spokesman for the Foreign Office said “Russia has wielded its UNSC veto 6 times since February 2017 to shield the Asad regime from scrutiny for its use of chemical weapons. "These accusations from Moscow are just the latest in a number of ludicrous allegations from Russia, who have also said that no attack ever happened. This simply shows their desperation to pin the blame on anyone but their client: the Asad regime. "The chemical weapons attack in Douma last Saturday was a shocking and barbaric act that cost up to 75 lives including young children.” Earlier on Friday it emerged that Russia could ban Scotch whisky in retaliation for sanctions imposed in the wake of the Salisbury chemical attack and any Western military action in Syria.  A sweeping ban on Western alcohol imports is among a number of options Russian MPs have drawn up to hit back at the West after the United States imposed sanctions on Russian businesses following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.  Scotland's whisky industry could be targeted by Russian sanctions   Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Vyacheslav Volodin, a former top aide to Mr Putin who is now speaker of parliament,  introduced the legislation as a response to the “boorish behaviour of the United States” on Friday.  The bill allows the government to adopt wide ranging retaliatory sanctions against the United States and its allies, but it also pushes back against Western threats of Syria strikes over the chemical attack in Douma, a senior MP has said.  Western countries took action against Russia following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal Credit: BEN STANSALL/AFP The bill in its current form explicitly targets the United States, but it says the measures can be extended to countries that adopted or simply “supported” sanctions against Russia. It could also target the United Kingdom, France and other countries that have a “certain position” on Syria, Alexei Chepa, deputy head of parliament's foreign affairs committee, told state news agency.  The move comes as the US, Britain and France prepare to launch missile strikes in Syria Credit: Ford Williams/US Navy “The legislation has not been discussed yet, maybe when it is there will be suggestions to expand these sanctions and actions to other countries, and other countries could be added to the list, including the United Kingdom,” Kirill Prokopov, an aide to Mr Chepa, told The Telegraph. “And if there is a military operation in Syria, that will be part of the discussion,” he said.  He said parliament would probably not vote on the legislation until May. Britain and France are considering joining potential US strikes against Bashar al Assad's regime. The European Union has adopted several rounds of sanctions against Russia. Mr Volodin's involvement means the bill will almost certainly pass when it is put to the vote.  Russian State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin introduced the bill on Friday  Credit: Pavel Golovkin/AP It was not immediately clear how exactly the sanctions would affect the UK – but key provisions in the text would allow Mr Putin to target key British industries ranging from whisky export to legal and consulting services.  The text published on the website of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, would grant the Russian government powers to take a number of actions including banning imports of alcohol or tobacco products "from the United States and/or other countries."  Other measures would include a black list of citizens of "unfriendly" countries banned from visiting Russia, suspending special visa programs for highly qualified individuals, and imposing embargoes on agricultural produce and Western-produced medicines. It also prescribes suspension of trade and cooperation in nuclear power, rocket engines, and aircraft manufacturing, hi-tech sectors where Russian and US industry is heavily intertwined.  Russian-made rocket engines have powered many US space launches in recent years. In particular, the first stage of the Atlas V rocket made by Boeing and Lockheed has been driven by a Russian engine. The Atlas V rocket uses Russian engines Credit: Orlando Sentinel/Getty It would also allow the Russian government to ban Western firms from taking part in state tenders for equipment procurement or consulting, legal, or auditing services. It would also increase overflight fees for Western airlines using Russian airspace.   In one of its most surprising moves, the legislation would “end the exclusive right to trademarks” and brand names on goods to be designated by parliament, which would open the door to Russian companies making brand-name products without rights-holders' permission. “The domination of the Anglo-Saxon, Western world is facilitated by intellectual property rights, and we will deliver a blow to this right,” MP Mikhail Yemelyanov told Interfax news agency. The proposed legislation grants the Russian government the authority to take such action, but does not mean that sanctions will be introduced.  The United States imposed sweeping sanctions on several Russian businessmen and their companies last week, as part of a retaliation for the nerve agent attack against former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.  The sanctions, which hit prominent businessmen including the metals billionaire Oleg Deripaska, wiped billions of dollars off Russian-linked stocks and prompted the ruble to dive.   Russia banned imports of Western fruit, vegetables, fresh meat, and dairy products in 2014 in retaliation for sanctions imposed following the annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine. 



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