17:18 GMT01 March 2021
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    The United States military has deployed ships and aircraft on standby to attack Syria if ordered by President Trump, US media has reported, citing defense officials. Russian Senator Alexei Pushkov is concerned that the US is waiting for a pretext to launch an attack, and may do so even if it doesn't find one.

    Citing anonymous US defense officials, CNN reported Wednesday that US ships and aircraft have been moved into position and are ready to strike Syria if ordered to do so by the president. The broadcaster added that so far they have not been given the order to do so, since the Syrian government has not "made any further moves toward a chemical weapons attack."

    On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the Trump administration's warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad had been "successful." Earlier this week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the White House had "identified potential preparations" for a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government, and warned that if President Bashar Assad did order such an attack, "he and his military [would] pay a heavy price." 

    On Tuesday, US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the US warning should be seen as a "message," not only to Assad, but to Syria's Russian and Iranian allies as well. Damascus has repeatedly rejected any claims that it was preparing a chemical attack, reiterating that it had destroyed its chemical weapons arsenal in 2014, under a deal brokered with Moscow's help and approved by the US.

    Commenting on CNN's report, senior Russian Senator Alexei Pushkov warned that Washington was just looking for a pretext to strike Syria, and what's worse – could act following a staged provocation of some sort.

    "The United States put its Navy and Air Force on alert, and is just waiting for an excuse to strike Syria. Assad will not give them one." This, Pushkov wrote, makes it "the perfect time for a provocation."

    "The United States put its Navy and Air Force on alert, and is just waiting for an excuse to strike Syria. Assad will not give them one. This the perfect time for a provocation."

    On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow has new intelligence on preparations for staged provocations in Syria. Zakharova named the towns of Saraqib and Ariha in northwest Idlib province as the possible locations where such provocations could take place.

    Zakharova reminded reporters how, following the alleged Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack in April – which led to US cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, mainstream Western media launched a massive misinformation campaign to blame the Syrian government for the attack. The latest claims by the White House could trigger a similar campaign, she warned. Meanwhile, no formal investigation of the Khan Sheikhoun attack has taken place, in spite of Moscow's repeated appeals to carry one out.

    On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov vowed that Russia would react to any possible US provocation against the Syrian Army "with dignity," and "proportionally to the real situation that may develop."

    "I am following how experts in the United States are analyzing the situation with new reports of chemical attacks being allegedly prepared. Experts there say openly that it is very likely that such warnings by Washington could be used by extremists who could organize a provocation and blame it on the Syrian Army," Lavrov said.


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