Why would Bashar Assad order the chemical attack in eastern Ghouta? I’ve come across a helpful counterquestion asked by someone in the Russian-speaking parts of the web: And why did Mikhail Tukhachevsky use poison gas against the Tambov insurgents in 1921?

The Red Army took Crimea, the last White stronghold in European Russia, in November 1920. The Bolshevik government signed a piece treaty with Poland in March 1921. By the summer of 1921, the Bolsheviks were in control of most of Russia west of Khabarovsk. The Red Army had no major war on its hands and enough resources to crush any peasant uprising, however large-scale.

Some Russian historians have doubted that Tukhachevsky used poison extensively against the rebels, but all seem to agree that plans for a chemical attack had been put forward and preparations had been made. If no large-scale attacks followed, it was because the Red Army did not have enough qualified personnel and was reluctant to kill the cattle in the villages selected for gassing.

So why indeed? To intimidate rebel supporters, probably, and wipe out the insurgency as soon as possible.

Turning to the newly declassified report by the French military intelligence on the latest chemical attack in the east of the Gouta area, more specifically in Douma. The translation is mine, simplified where necessary:

The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime makes sense in this context, from both the military and strategic points of views:

– tactically, the use of these weapons allows to dislodge enemy combatants hiding in residential buildings in order to start urban combat under the most favorable conditions for the regime; this serves to accelerate military gains and to leverage the impact to bring down the last stronghold of the armed groups;

– strategically, the use of chemical weapons, particularly of chlorine, documented from the beginning of 2018 in the east of Ghouta, is particularly aimed at punishing civilian residents in areas held by anti-regime combatants, and at causing terror and panic as an incentive to surrender; while the war is being continued by the regime, it is supposed to show, by indiscriminate strikes, that all resistance is futile and to prepare the ground for subjugating the last remaining pockets [of resistance].

– Since 2012, the Syrian armed forces have repeated their tactical patterns: toxic chemicals have been used primarily in the context of massive urban offensives, such as was the case at the end of 2016 during the recapture of Aleppo, where chlorine stockpiles were consistently combined with conventional weapons; moreover, all the targeted areas, such as eastern Ghouta, are among Damascus’ most important military objectives.

It could turn out an erroneous narrative, of course, if the key facts it cites and relies on are proven false. Assuming that it’s factually correct, the report seems well-reasoned.

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