MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia had information that the United States was planning to launch new missile strikes on Syria, and that there were plans to fake chemicals weapons attacks there.
Putin was speaking hours before U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was due to arrive in Moscow for talks with Russia's foreign minister and days after denouncing last week's U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base as illegal.
Standing alongside Italian President Sergio Mattarella who was in Moscow for talks, Putin, when asked by a reporter if he expected more U.S. missile strikes on Syria, said:
"We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared ... in other parts of Syria including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons)."
He did not offer any proof for that assertion.
Russia has defended the Syrian government, a staunch ally, against U.S. allegations it was behind the nerve gas attack in Syria's Idlib province last week which killed scores, saying there is no evidence to underpin such an allegation.
Putin said on Tuesday Russia would be urgently asking the global chemical weapons watchdog -- the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- to investigate the incident.
Speaking after Tillerson said earlier on Tuesday he hoped Russia would conclude it was wrong to align itself with the Syrian government, Putin said Moscow would tolerate Western criticism of its role in Syria but hoped that attitudes would eventually soften.
Putin's spokesman has said there are no scheduled plans for Putin to meet Tillerson on Wednesday, but Russian media have cited unnamed sources as saying that such a meeting will happen.
(Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe)