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The Battle for Syria

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Russia Gives Assurances that Syria Will not Resort to Chemical Weapons

August 22nd 2012

Syrian Missiles

The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on August 22 that Russia believes that Syria will not resort to using chemical weapons in the current civil war. Citing an unidentified source in Russia's foreign ministry, the Kommersant report appeared to seek reassuring Europe and the United States that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not use chemical weapons against rebels after President Barack Obama threatened "enormous consequences" if Damascus even moved them menacingly.

According to the newspaper account, there is an ongoing "confidential dialogue" between Syria and Russia that has conviced the latter that "the Syrian authorities do not intend to use these weapons and are capable of keeping them under control themselves." Russia's foreign ministry refused to comment on the report, which cited the official source as saying Russia considered it "entirely probable" the United States would take military action if a chemical attack were imminent.

Russia vehemently opposes military intervention in Syria, where dictator Assad has given Moscow its firmest Middle East foothold. On August 21, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the West against unilateral action. Both Russia and China have vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions back by the United States and other Western countries that would have raised pressure on Assad to end the bloodshed that the United Nations says has killed more than 18,000 people since protests began in March 2011.

Russia says it had told Syria even the threat to employ the arsenal was unacceptable, following a threat by a senior Syrian official last month that his country would not hesitate to use chemical weapons if attacked by outsiders. 

The Kommersant newspaper also quoted the Foreign Ministry official as saying the United States had "firmly warned insurgents not to even come close to chemical weapons storage sites and production plants" and that "opposition groups are heeding" those demands. "This shows that the West can exert very specific influence on Assad's opponents when wants to do so," the official said.

Western diplomats and other officials have blamed Russia for exacerbating the bloodshed in Syria by protecting Assad when the issue has come up in UN Security Council voting. Russia has contended that the West is actually encouraging the rebels and must instead encourage them to cease fire. 

Indeed, there have been press reports that the Central Intelligence Agency has been assisting some sectors of the Syrian insurgency as it did during the rebellion that led to the downfall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gadafy.There have been reports that under the provisions of a presidential intelligence finding, the United States is now collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies, while along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base to direct military and communications support to Assad’s opponents.

When Syria last month acknowledged for the first time that it had chemical and biological weapons, Western countries and Israel expressed fears that these could fall into the hands of Islamist militant groups as Assad's authority erodes. Israel has said that if Syrian-backed Hezbollah terrorists used the situation to seize the weapons, it would "act immediately and with utmost force."

"We're monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans," Obama said when asked about the feasibility of committing the U.S. military to safeguard Syria's chemical and biological arsenal.

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