Russian leader Vladimir Putin will “not rule out” supporting UN-backed strikes against Syria – if it is proved President Bashar al-Assad used poison gas against his own people.
But he warned the international community that launching any military action without UN approval would be illegal, before repeating doubts over whether the Assad regime were responsible for chemical weapons attack.
Putin said: “I don’t rule it out, but I would like to draw your attention to one absolutely key aspect. In line with international law, only the UN Security Council could sanction the use of force against a sovereign state. Any other pretext or method, which might be used to justify the use of force against an independent sovereign state, is inadmissible and can only be interpreted as an aggression.
“We have no data that those chemical substances – it is not yet clear whether it was chemical weapons or simply some harmful chemical substances – were used precisely by the official government army.”
The Russian president confirmed that Moscow had frozen its delivery of S-300 missiles to Damascus, but warned that he would reconsider this if the West attacked Syria.
He also said that if the attacks went ahead, Moscow would consider selling the missiles to other parts of the region. This was understood to be a veiled threat to revive a contract for the delivery of S-300s to Iran, which Russia cancelled a few years ago under US and Israeli pressure.
The US says the alleged chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21 killed 1,429 people.
A UN inspection team that visited the site is waiting for laboratory results on the tissue and soil samples it collected. It will then deliver its report.
On Tuesday a Syrian medical expert – who defected to Turkey – claimed he had evidence of the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s regime.
The debate in France comes after the UK pulled out of any potential action. It has been argued one of the key reasons for the UK’s reluctance to get involved centres around doubts over who would fill any power vaccuum in the country.
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