Russia’s Win Now Followed by the Hard Part
Published: September 18, 2013 (Issue # 1778)
Russia scored a brilliant diplomatic victory in Geneva over the weekend. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed an agreement with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that at least postpones any U.S. military operations in Syria for an indefinite period.
According to the agreement, Syria, which has already applied for admission to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has one week to submit comprehensive data on the size of its chemical weapons stockpiles and their locations. All equipment for the production of chemical weapons must be destroyed by November, and all of the weapons themselves must be either destroyed or removed from Syrian territory in the first half of 2014.
I have written before about the all-but-forgotten proposal from U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, who lobbied Moscow and Washington to establish joint control over Syria’s chemical weapons. Lavrov finally embraced this idea but only after Russia found itself sitting on the sidelines of global politics. President Vladimir Putin’s obsession with the threat of a “U.S.-financed color revolution” in Russia and his paranoid belief that all of the regime’s troubles are because of Western interference reduced the U.S.-Russian dialogue to a tired list of Kremlin complaints. These included everything from senseless accusations that the West was trying to achieve military superiority over Russia to complaints that Moscow was being forced out of its sphere of influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
At some point, Washington decided that it had heard enough and announced it was taking a timeout from the Kremlin. That move was disastrous for Moscow. Since Russia’s foreign policy revolves so much around criticizing U.S. policy, when that object of scorn walked away from the dialogue, Russia found itself with nobody to talk to and nothing to say.
But now the Kremlin has triumphed by saving Syrian President Bashar Assad from missile attacks and U.S. President Barack Obama from getting mired in a senseless and futile war. But a closer look at the agreement reveals several significant problems. The text of the agreement clearly indicates that the “international control” over Syria’s chemical weapons will exist on paper only. The document obligates the Assad regime to provide international experts with access to all facilities. This means that the Syrian authorities will continue to have control over the chemical agents up until the moment that they are destroyed or removed. In effect, the international community will be drawn into an endless game of hide-and-seek. Since all decisions must be made through the United Nations Security Council, where Russia holds veto power, it will be impossible to punish the Assad regime for violations of the agreement. What’s more, the process of assuming control of the weapons has been assigned to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an agency lacking the necessary powers to carry out the task.
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