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Syrian weapons deal helps Putin and Assad, say Russian observers

September 14, 2013|By Sergei L. Loiko
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin appears relaxed during a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Earlier in the day his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry reached a deal to rein in Syria's chemical weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears relaxed during a summit of the… (Vyacheslav Oseledko / Agence…)

MOSCOW -- Beyond the chance of easing one of the world’s most intractable military conflicts, the deal reached Saturday to eliminate Syria’s stock of chemical weapons could lay the groundwork for a new relationship between the United States and Russia that goes beyond President Obama’s “reset” effort, Kremlin advisor Sergei Karaganov said Saturday.

“The reset, which was built on the old agenda of limiting arms and reducing nuclear weapons, has grown seriously outdated in conditions when it is absolutely clear that Russia and the United States are not going to fight each other under any imaginable scenario,” said Karaganov, the honorary chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, a Moscow-based think tank.“The Syrian crisis demonstrated that the two countries can work together quite productively to avert and resolve this and any other conflicts in the region and elsewhere.

“So far our joint efforts are a visible and palpable success, but a lot still depends on forces inside and outside Syria, like Sunni [Muslims] in the Middle East who put their stake on Syrian rebels,” Karaganov said. “If the Russian plan with U.S. assistance proves capable of overcoming that resistance, the two countries could and should seriously think about setting up a new agenda in their relationship based on new challenges and new global problems.”

The Kremlin needed this breakthrough, not just to improve the prospects for peace in the Middle East but to bolster its international standing, which explains why President Vladimir Putin’s government apparently pressed the Syrians hard for a deal, Alexander Golts, deputy editor in chief of the liberal online publication Yezhednevny Zhurnal said.

“For the first time in over a decade Putin found himself in something close to an international isolation after the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg earlier this month,” Golts said, a reference in part to the fact that President Obama canceled a one-on-one meeting with the Russian leader.

“That can explain the energy with which the Kremlin clutched at the Syrian chemical weapons straw, acting largely not out of a desire to save [Syrian President Bashar] Assad at any price but to save its plunging international prestige,” he added. “The Kremlin is really going out of its way to make Assad comply and make this plan work because as long as it is working Putin is back on top of things, appearing to save both Assad and President Obama.

“While Putin and Obama are both enjoying the moment of getting each of them out of a difficult situation, Assad should also feel grateful for getting a lot of time to find a way to get rid of the rebels without U.S. missiles falling on his head,” Golts said. “It may take a significant time between Assad giving out the location of his chemical weapons bases, and there may be as many as 60 of them, to the actual deployment of thousands of international experts and troops to protect them let alone utilize or destroy.”

“All Assad needs now is time,” he added. “So Assad is the ultimate winner.”

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sergei.loiko@latimes.com

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