Russian diplomacy


When Mr Kerry let slip that putting the chemical weapons out of use could prevent a US military strike, the Russians went into overdrive. They made a proposal to Syria to put their chemical arsenal under new supervision. Syria has a made a positive response to the  idea. We n ow learn that Mr Obama had also discussed this with Mr Putin at the G20.

I would urge the President and his Secretary of State to take this offer seriously, and sit down and discuss what it means,  and how it might be implemented.  The rest of the world will not be pleased if an apparently fair offer to deal with the issue that the US has highlighted is not properly examined.

Of course the US┬ácan ┬áseek proper guarantees and assurances.┬á The UN might wish to make an independent and useful contribution, seeking to find a way forward which reassures all who do not wish to see chemical weapons in use that the Assad regime’s stockpiles cannot in future be used in this conflict.

It may be difficult to resolve this offer fully before the vote in Congress. It is a complication over the debate and vote. As the US administration says it sole concern prompting military action is the future use of chemical weapons, any sensible Congressman or woman would want this offer to be fully explored before thinking of  military action.  It argues for delay to the vote, or argues for a  conditional vote  in Congress, with Congress considering  later military action if the latest diplomatic initiative does not produce a negotiated settlement of the chemical weapons issue.

Meanwhile the Congress also needs to weigh the heavy news from Syria  concerning some rebel attacks on Christian settlements.The BBC has highlighted the plight of the Christians driven out of Maaloula,  reminding us that not all the anti Assad forces are benign democrats.


  1. Peter van Leeuwen
    September 10, 2013

    This is certainly a direction worth exploring.

  2. alan jutson
    September 10, 2013

    So we may have a possible solution, just from Nations talking to each other.

    Amazing !

    Perhaps Russia may also find out who supplied the chemicals in the first place, that could be a little uncomfortable for someone.

    Meanwhile the US seem to have forgotten all about the extensive use of agent Orange a few decades ago.

  3. lifelogic
    September 10, 2013

    I agree fully, let us hope Obama does too.

  4. Mike Stallard
    September 10, 2013

    “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
    Those words of Teedy Roosevelt have been most successfully put into practice by the US government.

    Actually the row over chemical weapons fools nobody. We all know what happened in Fallujah and what happened to the Marsh Arabs don’t we. Anyone remember Vietnam and “bombing them back to the stone age?”

    This battle between Salafists and (their opponents ed) has been really badly reported.

    1. Robert K
      September 11, 2013

      In more modern history, the US approach has been yell loudly and lash out with a big stick.

  5. nina Andreeva
    September 10, 2013

    As Gary said yesterday the Russians are playing a blinder here. The Syrians hand over their CW and its all internationally supervised and above board. Then suddenly there is another strike and Obama is exposed as being a liar as it was never Assad to begin with. Obama has painted himself into a corner as his evidence is non existent (he still will not play the tape) and he has no control over the insurgents what a fool!

  6. margaret brandreth-j
    September 10, 2013

    That is an understatement John. The various rebel factions are certainly not benign. It was proposed that some of the stock of CW have already been removed and used by the rebels themselves , or that indeed CW used were not even in the original stock. This is highly plausible, yet any attempt to placate the threatened attack must be a positive action and communication and discussion must work for peace.

    1. cosmic
      September 10, 2013

      Then this is a danger and a weak point in the strategy.

      Assad goes along with the Russian scheme.

      There’s then another nerve gas attack committed by the rebels who it’s suspected may have captured government stocks, or been supplied by other means.

      Assad is accused of acting in bad faith and we’re back where we are.

  7. A.Sedgwick
    September 10, 2013

    An odd turn of events, you would have thought that this was an option for discussion in G20, rather than Kerry’s almost thrown away line generating Russian interest, perhaps explained by their wanting to find some solution having done their hard man approach. The idea is fraught with difficulties and Russia has to be the main player with the sites being identified and a task force being sent in to airlift the chemicals out of Syria and into UN control.

    Will the Syrian Government/Army agree?

    What guarantee all the stocks are revealed?

    Inevitably removal is a boots on the ground operation with full Security Council approval. Increasingly there is a possibility that these chemicals will end up being captured by others in the civil war when control then becomes impossible. Strategically bombing Syria is looking completely wrong and would increase the chances of a proliferation happening by weakening the Assad regime defences. Russia seems to have opened the door to some co-operative approach and it should be taken. If there was a further gassing outrage then the scene changes for the worse but at the moment that seems unlikely.

    1. Douglas Carter
      September 10, 2013

      The British JIC findings and the US intelligence findings indicate that Assad was ‘most likely’ (or wordings similar) to have been responsible for the Chemical attacks recently. ‘Most likely’ isn’t unambiguous, and has a small wriggle-room, but for the sake of it, let’s allow their assessment.

      If both the leaderships in Russia and China largely agree with that, they’ll be inclined to bend Assad’s ears very heavily – neither of those two Security Council members are happy with allowing a smooth flow of western aims and their political inclination will be to block any consequences which result in a beneficial outcome for Obama and those largely in accordance with his own world view.

      If – a very big if – Russia and China have indeed gained assurances from Assad that he’ll keep his munitions of that kind withdrawn from the combat zone he’ll extract a quid pro quo. Given the strategic and geo-political importance of Syria, it’s likely he’ll be awarded that concession by at least Putin.

      You say ‘boots on the ground’ but if Putin continues to outmanoeuvre the west thus – here’s a little nightmare scenario that would not only be theoretically possible, but would result in one deployment the west has sought to avoid for sixty years.

      On the basis of bringing peace to Syria, Assad invites in (his quid pro quo) a Russian ‘peacekeeping force’. To deploy to separate Syrian Government forces from the rebel areas. (‘How can anyone object?’ – they’ll both protest sincerely – ‘We thought you wanted an end to the fighting…?…’) Thereby the rebel factions (who, if recent reports are to be believed are on the back foot now) will be hermatically sealed from outside aid (the ‘peacekeeping’ terms of reference will empower those forces to prevent armaments reaching them) consolidating Assad’s hold on the nation. Possibly tens of thousands of well-armed Russian troops legitimately and legally in theatre in a nation immediately adjaecent to Israel.

      And it wasn’t even Putin or Assad that brought the situation to that point – it would have been through Obama and Kerry, with the willing assistance of the other western permanent members of the Security Council. Who – to reiterate – could do nothing whatsoever to block (nor even protest about) such a temporary Russian ‘peacekeeping’ force.

      A force of – say – forty thousand troops, with facility for air defence, with armoured vehicle support and armed reconnaissance helicopters? …’Western forces had around three times that number deployed in Afghanistan’… Putin would remind us helpfully, …’Why would these actions requested by the legal Government of Syria bother you on this occasion…?…’…

      As stated elsewhere, he’s not only played a blinder, Obama, Cameron and Hollande inadvertently invited him to take centre-stage.

      …’Will the Syrian Government/Army agree?’…

      The situation above would be manna from heaven for them.

      1. Nina Andreeva
        September 10, 2013

        A Russian peacekeeping force? I bet Putin will agree to that one. Russian troops in Syria is going to be like a magnet to every Chechen jihadi who is not there already to get there as soon as possible.

      2. alan jutson
        September 10, 2013

        Douglas, with this foresight you are needed in the Foreign Office.

        Putin is no Mug, he will grasp any opportunity to rub the west’s nose in it.

      3. A.Sedgwick
        September 11, 2013

        I think that you are getting a little carried away – my suggestion was a UN task force with serious Russian participation to get the chemicals out of Syria. The possibility of a load of scientists, if available and willing, carrying out this task is nil. The operative word is task not invasion. I made no mention of a peace keeping force.

  8. David Price
    September 10, 2013

    Can a signitory to the UN CW Convention merely put the Syrian CW stocks under “new supervision” as this suggests that they would be returned at some future time?

    Surely they have to be collected and destroyed in a verifiable fashion.

    If that is done then if any CWs are used in Syria it would probably be by the rebels in which case the US would be in a bit of a pickle as associated action would then have to be taken against the rebels.

    1. formula57
      September 10, 2013

      True enough – and it can be depended upon that post quarentine of Syrian government chemical weapons, a fresh use will be reported to the great embarassment of the US. lol

  9. Denis Cooper
    September 10, 2013

    I think we could probably trust the Russians on this, ie that they would remove whatever chemical weapons may be held by Assad to Russia and destroy them, but at the same time continue to supply him with other weapons.

    1. zorro
      September 10, 2013

      Indeed, it is in the Syrian government’s interest to sign the relevant treaty as the Russians will continue to supply them. It will probably expose more starkly the origin of any other chemical weapons whic my have been smuggled into Syria.


  10. oldtimer
    September 10, 2013

    The speed with which this idea has been taken up suggests that the G20 meeting was not a total waste of time after all. If, as you say, it was discussed by Obama and Putin then the subsequent turn of events has all the hallmarks of the parties seeking a speedy way to get themselves off the hooks on which they had managed to impale themselves. This a welcome development.

  11. formula57
    September 10, 2013

    Well said! And let us hope your blog is read at the FCO so it will know what to do.

  12. David Cee
    September 10, 2013

    Hopefully this is the “third way” option for Obama I mentioned previously: ie a way of avoiding military action.

  13. Bert Young
    September 10, 2013

    The timing and detail of the Russian proposal was sensible ; it enables the bumbling Obama to escape from the inevitable public protest that would crumble his leadership . The UN should lose no time in endorsing the approach .

  14. Neil Craig
    September 10, 2013

    The problem is whether Assad, or the Russians can trust US promises. We have the example of the promise of peace to Gadaffi if he gave up his weapons programme; the Russians accepting that the UN authorisation of defending Benghazi only meant defending Benghazi; Saddam giving up his wmds & “not being believed”; the NATO guarantee to run a non-racist regime in Kosovo and respect Yugoslav sovereignty; and the NATO powers signature of the Helsinki Treaty guaranteeing to respect all the borders in Europe.

    On the other hand if, perhaps with Russian peacekeepers deployed long term, the US word is kept for long enough it will become possible for other countries to start trusting agreements with them even without wmds (ie North Korea) and that would make the world safer.

  15. peter davies
    September 10, 2013

    “not all the Anti Assad forces are democrats” – very diplomatically put there and highly understated I guess .

    This does seem the most sensible course of action – even if it meant putting UN troops preferably from Arab countries on the ground to oversee the collection and destruction of these weapons.

    I wish Mr Blair would stay quiet on this issue and quietly do his job as Middle East Peace Envoy to find a solution rather than use his media presence to encourage military action – whoever put him in that job would have been the equivalent of putting G Brown in charge of the IMF in my view.

  16. Roy Grainger
    September 10, 2013

    This would appear to be a matter between USA, Russia and Syria. Not sure why we have a right to comment on it at all – we can’t have it all ways. If the matter is taken up by one of the international bodies we are a member of such as the EU, UN, or NATO only at that time should we provide any input.

  17. Matthew
    September 10, 2013

    Worth exploring and if it works should stop these weapons being used again.

    Just odd how the ÔÇťofferÔÇŁ from Sec Kerry seemed to slip out of the ether, as part of an answer to a question.

  18. Leslie Singleton
    September 10, 2013

    Destroying even some chemical weapons stands alone as a good idea but unfortunately it would be impossible to make sure that all had been declared and made safe. There might be some small chance of finding at least most if boots allowed in to conduct a search but not otherwise. The idea of missiles lobbed in from afar achieving much (achieving much positive, that is) continues dishonourable and hardly believable.

  19. forthurst
    September 10, 2013

    “The BBC has highlighted the plight of the Christians driven out of Maaloula, reminding us that not all the anti Assad forces are benign democrats.”

    Full marks for ironic understatement. This story has certainly been very prominent in the non-Western government controlled media for several days. What it highlights is the difficulty for the bad guys (Assad’s army) of removing the good guys (al qaida, al-nasra front etc) once they have become ensconced in a civilian settlement; they have taken over a hotel on the high ground directly above the World Heritage site buildings from whence they can control the surrounding lower ground with sniper fire, thus precluding the bad guys from using heavy artillery to remove them.
    The bad guys were forced to retreat. So the strategy of the good guys is to move into new areas, taking up high strategic positions in order to control neighbourhoods with sniper fire, from which they would be very difficult to remove by storming their positions without very high casualties; hence the widespread damage and loss of life from heavy artillery. It has to be wondered why the good guys do not focus more of their attention on Assad’s military apparatus directly: presumably, not a soft enough target.

    1. Bill
      September 11, 2013

      Agree. Christians in the Middle East were in some respects the buffers keeping the various Islamic forces apart. If you remove the ancient Christian communities, everyone who remains is affected.

  20. forthurst
    September 10, 2013

    The main explanation I have seen as to why Assad used chemical weapons was that he thought he could get away with it; however, this is not a motive since criminals generally believe they can get away with their crimes. When the Bolsheviks murdered millions, they did have motives: to exterminate the Russian elite to forestall further resistance and the ethnic and religious hatred of the Slavic peoples. If we are to believe the official narrative, we need to be given just one motive for the indiscriminate murdering of children by Assad, since clearly, al Qaida, al-Nasra Front, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, the neocons in the Pentagon, did have a motive for enticing the US military on to the presently losing side.

    If there has been a conspiracy with a false flag, we cannot deduce from that that it would have been universally known of by the highest levels of all western governments, then the present proposal, which has already provoked some back-pedalling, will have discomforted those for whom chemical weapons is their only saleable casus belli for knocking over the next domino.

    I have seen unconfirmed reports that the good guys, seeing that their latest ploy has not necessarily been enough, are already plotting to launch a chemical attack from ‘Assad-controlled’ territory into Israel. As many senior Western politicians are very good friends of this state, a much darker scenario would be likely to unfold. As to the murdered children, there are reports that they had quite simply been kidnapped and murdered; surely not by our good guys?

  21. Terry
    September 10, 2013

    I suggest that the true Syrian rebels have now blown any chances of their taking over. On one hand, we have Assad complying with the Russian suggestion to release his Chemical weapons to the UN and on the other, we have those alien rebel factions who have started already to persecute innocent Christians, thus providing a foretaste of what would happen if Assad was deposed. It does not look good.

    The likely outcome of this weapon handover, once it has been successfully completed, is that relations with Assad would improve. Eventually, it might be possible to persuade him to bring in a minister from the opposing rebels to satisfy that element. There cannot be any doubt in his mind that the Syrian people are far from happy with his past and seek a better life for themselves, whatever the cost. If he positively addresses that problem and moves towards a better democracy then Syria will evolve. If not, then he can expect more of the same and that is no solution. Look after your people and they will look after you.

  22. margaret brandreth-j
    September 10, 2013

    Some progress with the promise of signing the CW convention. Islamic extremists do not have loyalty to any country , so trusting Putin would be a good stand to avoid war. We are in the war of fighting terrorists as a world and it has little to do with flexing superpower muscles, whatever the by products of settlement may appear like. The ones who are the strongest are the ones who seek peace.” Blessed are the peacemakers for those shall be called the children of God”

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