Russia is stepping up weapons supplies to Syria’s President Bashar Assad, to help him prevail in the civil war, as part of the arrangements under which the Assad regime has agreed in principle to have its chemical weapons stockpiles placed under international supervision, Israel television reported on Tuesday night.
Negotiations between Russia and Syria on the supervision arrangement, which seem to have drastically reduced the likelihood of US-led military intervention in Syria, have been ongoing for two full weeks, and have also involved Iran, the Israeli Channel 2 report said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, determined to ensure that his ally Assad not face a punitive US-led strike following Damascus’s alleged use of chemical weapons in an August 21 attack that the US says killed over 1,400 Syrians, essentially ordered Assad to submit to international oversight of his chemical weapons stocks, the report said.
In return, Putin promised bolstered conventional weapons shipments, “some of which are already on their way” to Syria from the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. The TV report did not specify which weaponry Putin is supplying to Assad, but noted that the Syrian regime needs more fighter planes for use to quash rebel forces, spare parts for tanks, and all kinds of other military equipment to replenish stocks depleted during the two-and-a-half years of fighting that have left well over 100,000 Syrians dead. An estimated 1,600 Syrians have died in the three weeks since the alleged August 21 attack.
Last summer, Russia said it would not deliver weapons including 24 MiG-29 fighter jets ordered by the Syrian Air Force until the Syrian crisis ended. But in May, Russian officials said a Syrian delegation was in Moscow to discuss a new contract to supply combat aircraft.
Putin said late Tuesday that he hoped “our Syrian friends will make the appropriate decision with respect to transferring the chemical weapons to the control of the international community, and to joining the treaty preventing the proliferation of chemical weapons.”
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who has been in Moscow this week, was quoted Tuesday saying Syria would indeed open all relevant sites to UN inspectors, would not produce chemical weapons, and would sign all relevant treaties.
“We fully support Russia’s initiative concerning chemical weapons in Syria, and we are ready to cooperate. As a part of the plan, we intend to join the Chemical Weapons Convention,” he said in an interview with the Lebanon-based Al-Maydeen TV.
“We are ready to fulfill our obligations in compliance with this treaty, including through the provision of information about our chemical weapons. We will open our storage sites, and cease production. We are ready to open these facilities to Russia, other countries and the United Nations.”
“We intend to give up chemical weapons altogether,” he added.
US President Barack Obama said in a series of TV interviews Monday that a deal that ensured Syria was unable to again use chemical weapons would “absolutely” roll the crisis back from the brink. His Secretary of State John Kerry warned Tuesday, however, that such a deal had to be “measureable, tangible” and speedy. “If we choose not to act, we’ll be sending a message to Iran of American ambivalence, American weakness,” the secretary noted.
Israel’s former foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, indicated Tuesday a similar concern. Speaking against the background of the negotiations that were apparently pushing off any US-led strike on Assad’s regime, Liberman, the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, noted that, where Iran’s nuclear program was concerned, Israel “will have to deal with it on our own.”