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Russia Says It Will Not Interfere With Syria Chemical Weapons Probe

MOSCOW, (VOANEWS).- Russia said Monday it will not interfere with the work of a fact-finding mission investigating an alleged chemical attack last week near Syria's capital.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has sent a team to Syria to probe what happened in Douma, and the watchdog held an emergency meeting Monday in The Hague to discuss the situation.

Britain, France and the United States all say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces were responsible for using chemical weapons in Douma, which Syria and Russia deny. The three Western allies launched coordinated airstrikes Saturday that hit several sites linked to Syria's chemical program.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Monday the strikes were "entirely the right thing to do."

"I'm afraid the Syrian war in many ways will go on in its horrible, miserable way. But it was the world saying that we've had enough of the use of chemical weapons," Johnson said.

He spoke as European foreign ministers gathered to discuss the situation in Syria. The EU reiterated its condemnation of the use of chemical weapons on Syria, including the most recent reported attack, and said it supports the work of international chemical weapons investigators.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also said there is a clear need to push for relaunching a U.N.-led peace process. She called on Russia and Iran to use their influence as allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "start serious and meaningful discussions under U.N. auspices in Geneva."

Also Monday, the United States is expected to unveil new sanctions against Russia. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told CBS News the measures would "go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use."

In a separate interview with Fox News, Haley warned Assad that the U.S. would launch new missile strikes against his government if he carries out another chemical weapons attack.

Haley said, "If Assad doesn't get it" after Saturday's barrage of 105 missiles fired by the U.S., Britain and France at three Syrian chemical weapons facilities, "it's going to hurt. There will be more. We can't allow even the smallest use of chemical weapons."

She said that it is "entirely up to Assad" whether the missile attack on Syria was a one-time response to the suspected chemical attack by Syrian forces a week ago that killed more than 40 people or part of a continuing allied military effort.

"We'll see how smart he is," Haley said. "We'll watch his actions. Hopefully he's gotten the message."

Russian War Games Seek to Cement Ties With China, Send Message to West

LONDON, (HENRY RIDGWELL-VOANEWS).- Russia is holding its largest military exercises since the Cold War in the far eastern part of the country, and for the first time it has invited contingents from China and Mongolia.

About 36,000 tanks and 300,000 Russian troops, a third of the country’s military personnel, are on maneuvers in the vast expanses of eastern Siberia. China has sent more than 3,000 troops.

The skies are patrolled by 1,000, aircraft, including strategic long-range bombers. In the Arctic and Pacific oceans, 80 Russian warships are conducting mock battles and landing drills.

Russian President Vladimir Putin took a front-row seat to observe the exercises Thursday and praised the relationship with the country’s eastern neighbors.

“I would like to say a special thank you to the armed forces of the People’s Republic of China and Mongolia. Our fraternity in arms has long and firm traditions,” Putin said.

Huge Russian War Games Seek to Cement Ties With China, Send Message to West

The war games, known as Vostok ’18, come as relations between Moscow and the West continue to worsen following the poisoning of a former double agent on British soil. Meanwhile the trade war between Beijing and Washington continues to deepen.

The exercises may be taking place in a remote corner of the world, but they have global resonance, said analyst Emily Ferris of London’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

“As well as demonstrating to the West that it has this alliance with China, it’s also an opportunity for Russia to show what it’s learned from its military interventions, for example in Syria, for example in eastern Ukraine,” Ferris told VOA in an interview.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the United States and its allies to impose sanctions on Moscow.

“The Western sanctions have damaged Russia’s ability to get, for example, military components that it used to get from its Western partners. And so, Russia’s military in the meantime is undergoing a 10-year-long renovation and upgrade. And so, to pay for those parts, Russia is going to need to find alternative partners,” Ferris said.

The exercises coincide with the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, attended by several heads of state. With China engaged in a spiraling trade war with the United States, analysts say Moscow sees an opportunity to deepen relations with Beijing.

“They are politically becoming very close. Economically, the Russian-Chinese trade is booming, when other kinds of trade, especially in Russia, is not booming at all. And also, of course, now militarily, they are acting together as brothers-in-arms in military games that are basically aimed at the United States and its allies,” said Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst based in Moscow.

Sources of tension

Ferris said there are also sources of tension in the relationship.

“Particularly the belt-and-road initiative of China’s that sort of bypasses Russia, especially because China is quite interested in countries like Ukraine and Belarus, and using its infrastructure as a gateway to Europe. I think Russia is quite suspicious of what China is planning,” she said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Tuesday that he sees “little in the long term that aligns Russia and China.” The military exercises come amid threats from Washington of more sanctions against Russia if it conducts an assault on Idlib, the last rebel-held area in Syria. The United Nations has warned of a potential massacre of civilians.