Putin implies plot to stage attacks in Syria and blame the Syrian regime

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(File photo) Russian President Vladimir Putin

Moscow (CNN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that unnamed forces inside Syria are plotting chemical attacks, which they plan to blame on the Syrian regime.

"We have information from a variety of sources that such provocations... are being prepared in other parts of Syria, including in southern suburbs of Damascus," Putin said Tuesday during a news conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

The Russian leader was responding to a question on the likelihood of further US military strikes against Syria, following Friday's firing of 59 Tomahawk missiles against the Shayrat airfield.

Putin said that forces were planning to plant "certain substances" in parts of the country, without giving further details. He said he would ask The Hague and the international community to investigate the allegations.

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the bombing in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed dozens of people in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4. Putin last week denounced the U.S. strike an "act of aggression" that violated international law.

Russia and Syria deny any involvement in the chemical attack, but the White House claims they're trying to cover up the incident and "confuse the world community about who is responsible."

In the briefing Tuesday, Putin suggested that Russia and Syria were being demonized for the purposes of politics.

"Everyone wants to restore relations in the Western community after – thanks to the former U.S. administration – many European countries adopted an anti-Trump position during the election campaign," he said.

"Syria and Russia, as a common enemy, provide a wonderful platform for consolidation. We are ready to put up with that for a while in the hope that it will eventually lead us to some positive trend based on interaction."

Putin said the U.S. is using the same tactic it did in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

"This reminds me very much of the events of 2003, when U.S. representatives in the Security Council showed alleged chemical weapons discovered in Iraq. A military campaign in Iraq ensued, which ended with the destruction of the country, an increased terrorist threat and the emergence of ISIS on the international scene," Putin said. "The exact same thing is happening now, and their partners are nodding approvingly."

About-face

During his campaign, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was open to cooperating with Russia on Syria and that removing Assad was not priority.

But the images in the aftermath of the chemical attack moved President Trump to act, launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airbase where the planes that carried out the attack were based, U.S. officials said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday that those strikes were not as effective as the U.S. claims. The day before, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said the airstrike had destroyed 20% of the Syrian government's operational aircraft.

"Figures sounded by the Pentagon of supposedly high efficiency of massive missile attack on Shayrat Air Force Base are made for the American public, not for professionals," according to a statement posted on the Defense Ministry's Facebook page.

Officials in the Trump administration now say that Assad must go, just days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Assad's status was not the top priority for the U.S.

CNN's Sebastian Shukla contributed to this report.

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Putin implies plot to stage attacks in Syria and blame the Syrian regime."