Hours before the United States, the UK, and France carried out “limited” strikes last Saturday morning, the Russian military presented what it claimed to be proof that the chemical weapons attack used as the pretext for those strikes was staged at the behest of the UK government.

During a Friday briefing, the Russian Defense Ministry showed interviews with medical professionals reported to work in the only functional hospital in Douma – the suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus where the attacks are said to have taken place. In their testimony, the two men asserted that the footage of the alleged chemical attack was taken after a Syrian air strike occurred and that the affected people shown in the video were suffering from smoke poisoning. They stated that a false claim of chemical weapons use was then circulated, leading concerned family members to douse those affected with water.

The Russian military then asserted that the White Helmets, the foreign-funded “humanitarian” group active in Syria, were pressured by the UK government to “speed up” a provocation that they had been preparing in order to push for Western intervention.

British UN Ambassador Karen Pierce called the allegations “grotesque,” “a blatant lie” and “the worst piece of fake news we’ve yet seen from the Russian propaganda machine.”

The main group that has provided footage and evidence purporting to show the chemical weapons attack in Douma are the White Helmets. Syria’s White Helmets, while they have largely been portrayed in Western media as a humanitarian first responder group, were actually founded in Turkey in 2013 by a British mercenary named James Le Mesurier. Le Mesurier is a former officer in the British military and also formerly worked for British intelligence. He eventually left his work with the British government to join with the Olive Group before it merged with Blackwater-Academi to become Constellis Holdings. He then worked in Abu Dhabi before moving to Turkey and founding the White Helmets.

To found the group, Le Mesurier raised $300,000 in seed funding provided by the UK, the U.S. and Japan, according to journalist Vanessa Beeley. Since its founding, the White Helmets have received over $123 million from 2013 to 2016 from the U.S. and UK governments, as well as Western NGOs and Gulf state monarchies. In addition, during the past five years, the White Helmets have been instrumental in blaming the Syrian government for any and all chemical weapons attacks in Syria, acting as both witnesses and responders to events that were later reported to be the work of the armed opposition in Syria or staged.

In Mid-March, the Syrian Arab Army intercepted a truck containing weapons and ammunition destined for the militant rebel groups in the area where the chemical weapons attack is said to have occurred. Among the items found were canisters apparently containing smoke grenades made in Salisbury, England – where the UK government has a chemical weapons laboratory.

Regardless of what information emerges from Douma regarding the alleged chemical weapons attack, the UK and its allies have already unilaterally attacked Syria even though they have admitted that they have no evidence that the attack even took place, beyond social media posts and YouTube videos created by controversial groups with ties to U.K. intelligence.

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