As the Syrian regime sets its sights on the last remaining rebel stronghold of Idlib, the Russian Defense Ministry in at least the last week of August 2018 has pushed a narrative about possible upcoming staged chemical attacks in the rebel-held province.
“Russian MoD: White Helmets Preparing to Stage Chemical Attack in Idlib” read one headline by Sputnik, a Russian state-owned media outlet, on Aug. 28, 2018.
“US plans to use fake chemical weapons attack to strike Syria – Russian MoD,” one headline by the Russian state-owned media outlet RT read on Aug. 27, 2018.
The list goes on, and it’s a sign chemical attacks may be launched again — but this time in Idlib, the last Syrian rebel stronghold fighting the Assad regime.
In fact, it’s the same rhetoric Moscow used before the deadly chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta in April 2018.
“E Ghouta Militants Plan to Stage Chemical Attack to Blame Gov’t – Damascus,” read one Sputnik headline in mid-March 2018, about a month before the Ghouta chemical attack that killed dozens.
“This is textbook,” Jennifer Cafarella, a senior intelligence planner at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider. “They have done this consistently in the lead up to the use of chemical weapons. So I think it’s a serious possibility that they will use it again.”
A child is treated for suspected chemical gas poisoning in Douma, Syria on April 8, 2018.
“It is incredibly conniving,” Cafarella added.
In early May 2018, The New York Times and Bellingcat virtually recreated the scene to convincingly show how Syrian helicopters dropped chlorine barrel bombs on Eastern Ghouta.
In July 2018, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that chlorine gas was used in the Eastern Ghouta attack in April 2018, but didn’t assign blame to the attack.
However, Russian and Syrian regime forces blocked OPCW inspectors from the site of the attack for weeks after the attack.
“Assad and Russia don’t use chemical weapons simply for the sake of using chemical weapons,” Cafarella said. “They intend to cause an effect with chemical weapons that they then can exploit by advancing on the ground.”
Nevertheless, it’s still an open question as to whether an attack on Idlib will actually happen.
“The Turks are blocking the offensive,” Cafarella said. “The Turks and Russians continue to frame their discussion from the lens of cooperation, but that’s not actually what’s happening.”
Cafarella said that Turkey may allow a partial offensive in Idlib, but that Ankara can’t afford “to have another massive Syrian refugee flow towards the Turkish border.”
On Aug. 30, 2018, the United Nations called on Russia, Turkey, and Iran to hold off on the Idlib assault, fearing a humanitarian disaster for the province’s nearly 3 million civilians, and that chemical weapons could be used by either the Syrian regime or militants themselves.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.