Britain and France have denounced as a "stunt" and "masquerade" a move by Russia and Syria to produce Syrian witnesses to support claims that there was no chemical attack in the city of Douma earlier this month.
Russian and Syrian officials on April 26 presented several unharmed people from Douma, near Damascus, at the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition for Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.
Russia also held a press conference later in the day to present "evidence" that allegations of the chemical attack were "completely null and void," according to Russia's representative to the OPCW, Aleksandr Shulgin.
The U.K. representative to the OPCW, Peter Wilson, said Britain and its allies would not attend the briefing, saying in a statement that "the OPCW is not a theater."
"Russia's decision to misuse it is yet another Russian attempt to undermine the OPCW’s work, and in particular the work of its Fact Finding Mission investigating chemical-weapons use in Syria," he added.
"This obscene masquerade does not come as a surprise from the Syrian government, which has massacred and gassed its own people for the last seven years," said Philippe Lalliot, the French ambassador to the Netherlands.
The United States, Britain, and France fired more than 100 missiles at Syrian facilities on April 14 in response to what Western officials say was an April 7 chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians in Douma.
Damascus and Moscow, which has given Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government crucial support throughout the seven-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, deny that a chemical attack took place in Douma.
On April 25, OPCW inspectors made a second visit to Douma, collecting samples from a new location that will be sent to designated labs for analysis.
Also on April 26, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey were scheduled to meet in Moscow on April 28 to discuss Syria and the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Iran, along with Russia, backs Assad in the war in Syria, while Turkey supports opponents seeking to oust him.
The three countries launched a negotiations process last year in the Kazakh capital, Astana, which is running parallel with the UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels on April 25, EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini called on the three countries to do more to scale down the fighting in Syria, saying they shared a "special responsibility" to ensure the conditions for a cease-fire and for Assad's government to return to the negotiating table.