With Over Half of Chemical Weapons-Related Stockpile Removed, Russia Says Syrian CW Potential Near Zero

Yesterday, in describing how Russia has played the US media regarding “threats” to the P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear technology, I mentioned that continued progress on Syria’s removal of its chemical weapons-related materials was further evidence that Russia intends to cooperate on the Iranian and Syrian nonproliferation issues separately from disputes over the Crimea annexation. Today, with news out that removal of the CW-related materials from Syria has crossed the 50% level, Russia has praised that accomplishment while pointing out that Syria now has virtually no capability of using chemical arms. Oh, and if we need any further confirmation that Russia is ready for the recriminations over Crimea to end, Putin himself has now said that there is no further need for retaliation against US sanctions (although I’m guessing that Dana Rohrabacher is in mourning that he wasn’t included in the list of ten US figures sanctioned by Russia since he even played dress-up and “fought” against the Soviets in Afghanistan).

A press release put out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons yesterday put the removal of materials from Syria at just under 50%:

The OPCW-UN Joint Mission has verified the delivery of another consignment of Priority 1 chemicals today to Latakia and their removal from the port on a cargo ship, raising the amount of Syrian chemicals that are now out of the country to nearly half of the total stockpile.

The confirmation came on the heels of an announcement late yesterday by the Joint Mission of two other consignments of chemicals that were delivered to Latakia and removed during the past week. A total of 11 consignments of chemicals have now been transported out of Syria for destruction outside the country. The updated cumulative figures are as follow:

Priority 1 chemicals removed:             34.8 %*
Priority 2 chemicals removed:             82.6 %
Total chemicals removed:                   49.3 %

/snip/

* Includes all sulfur mustard, the only unitary chemical warfare agent in Syria’s arsenal

But the UN has slightly different figures, putting the removal over 50%:

More than half of Syria’s declared chemical weapons arsenal has been shipped out or destroyed within the country, the head of the international team overseeing the disarmament process said on Thursday.

Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission of the United Nations and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said 54 percent of the toxins had been removed or eliminated.

The process, which President Bashar al-Assad’s government agreed to after a chemical attack killed hundreds of people around Damascus last year, is months behind schedule but Kaag said the new momentum “would allow for timely completion”.

“The joint mission welcomes the momentum attained and encourages the Syrian Arab Republic to sustain the current pace,” Kaag said in a statement.

Russia welcomed this news and added that Syria now has almost no capability of carrying out an attack with chemical weapons:

The Syrian government has reduced its chemical weapons potential close to zero, state-run RIA news agency quoted an unnamed official at the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying on Friday.

“Chemical weapons production facilities, equipment for mixing (chemicals) and operating (the weapons), as well as the means of their delivery have been destroyed,” the official said, adding that the only gas that had been ready for use in weaponry had been completely removed from the country.

“At the moment, Damascus has de facto reduced its military chemical weapons potential to almost zero.”

Sadly, those who relish a restart of the Cold War are unlikely to stop now, so we are left to wonder what Putin will do in response if the US (especially Congressional meddlers) takes further steps claimed to be in response to the annexation of Crimea. Putin’s statement today that he sees no need for further retaliation can be viewed as reining back in the “threat” delivered by Ryobkov after the P5+1 negotiations ended Wednesday. Further action by the US, though, could end Russian cooperation in both the P5+1 process and the Syrian CW situation, seriously hurting current nonproliferation efforts.

It is my hope that Cold War fans will restrict their threats against Russia to the realm of what would happen should Putin try to grab more territory beyond Crimea.

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9 replies
  1. Adam Colligan says:

    Call me a Cold War fan I guess, but Putin just used a Russian military invasion and a falsified referendum to deny 2 million people the opportunity to democratically determine thier political status. The US has retaliated against, what, a chunk of the assets of a number of exceedingly rich people you can count on your fingers and toes?

    I just can’t take seriously the view that the West is somehow “lucky” to have avoided serious Russian retaliation on Syria or other pressure points, leaving us now in a position where doing anything more regarding Crimea somehow constitutes “pushing” our luck. That just strikes me as a destructive hostage mentality, particularly with regard to Syrian CW, which now may pose a greater threat to Russian interests than American ones.

    • ess emm says:

      Err, yeah, at the very least you’re a Cold War fan.

      Look, I don’t think Putin would have made any move in Crimea if the USG hadnt supported a gang of neo-fascist thugs in their violent overthrow of a democratically elected government. What’s worse, the USG immediately moved to give the putschists an “attaboy” even though key positions (like vice premier, national security and Interior) in the new regime are occupied by neo-fascist pigs.

      I’m sure you’ve seen this video demonstrating the new regime’s commitment to enlightenment values.

      Oh, and please provide some proof the Crimean referendum was “falsified.”

      • Adam Colligan says:

        1. Putin’s move in Crimea is patently not about reluctantly protecting anyone from fascism. This is demonstrated not only by Putin’s authoritarian exercise of power in his own country but also by the fabrication of supposed threats against, e.g., Ukrainian Jews.

        2. The role of US government support in the Ukrainian uprising has been significantly exaggerated both in terms of its effect in Ukraine and in terms of it being somehow determinative of Putin’s actions. There is no good reason to believe either that Washington was a prime instigator of what happened or that Washington’s role in partiuclar mattered much one way or the other to the Kremlin’s behavior.

        3. The characterization of the newly ascendant pro-Western movement in Ukraine as “neo-fascist” is wrongheaded. It is apparently true that Right Section and associated hard-line forces have formed an element of protest and overthrow movement. But there is simply no firm basis for the idea that either the ideology or the personnel of the far-right are now the occupants of the seat of power in Kiev. The mainstream politics of Western Ukraine, the basis of support for the acting government, is pro-EU and essentially liberal-democratic. Trying to tag a large movement with the attributes of the most extreme or objectionable participants you can find is not only generally unfair but also works to blind you to the specifics of real problems.

        4. The commitment of the new regime to Enlightenment values (whatever that means in this context — I suppose you just use that as a stand-in for “good things”) is indeed in question. The legality of the impeachment, the possibility of physical intimidation of Party of Regions members, the attack on the language law, over-the-top rhetoric regarding separatism, and incidents like the one of that video (though I’m not familiar with it) are very serious problems. The legitimacy of the prior regime had also fallen into question with regard to both electoral integrity, criminal corruption, and of course the unjustified use of lethal violence.

        5. Given (4), it would appear to be vital for people both inside and outside Ukraine to support the holding of real, transparent elections in an environment where views, including separatist views, can be aired freely and fairly. When the legitimacy of officeholders on both sides of the divide is in question, it is not the time for them to be making momentous and permanent decisions about sovereignty.

        6. The referendum in Crimea was clearly not an exercise in legitimate, transparent expression of popular will. There was no time for a real popular debate. Kiev-based Ukrainian media was blocked during the supposed campaign period. Anonymized Russian soldiers, along with pro-Russian militias and biker gangs, intimidaded both the population and journalists without recourse. Serious international monitors were not allowed. Significant reports of voting irregularities, involving the integrity of voter lists, multiple and ineligible voting, and counting processes, were not acknowledged or investigated. The turnout reported was impossibly high. The 97 percent in favor figure is very obviously not reflective of the divide on the peninsula, even if there truly is a pro-Russian majority. And the immediate move by the authorities against Tatars regarding land rights should put to rest any notion that this is some kind of emergency process to ensure minority protection.

        • ess emm says:

          Hi, Adam. Point by point response.

          1. Here’s what Putin says. The neo-fascist threat is part of the equation, and I accept there are other reasons as well. But certainly the putsch by the neo-fascists and their threatened alignment with NATO forced the immediate response to protect the naval base. Looking forward to seeing your proof about another “fabrication” claim.

          2. “Yats” has met personally with Obama. He got his “attaboy” from Biden as Nuland promised. You want to talk about instigating—but I only talked about what a bad idea it is to support neo-fascists. To think the Ukrainian putschists could get off the ground without the USG giving them the appearance of legitimacy is silly.

          3. You say: “…simply no firm basis for the idea that either the ideology or the personnel of the far-right are now the occupants of the seat of power in Kiev.” I dont think you’ve really looked at what’s going on. For example, here’s a nice summary from Vineyard of the Saker

          Vice Prime Minister Alexandr Sych (Freedom Party)
          Minister of Defense Igor Teniukh (Freedom Party)
          Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov (officially member of the Fatherland Party but in reality an agent for the Right Sector)
          Head of the National Security and Defense Council Andrei Paribii (Social-National Party of Ukraine)
          Deputy Head of the National Security and Defense Council Dmitri Iarosh (Right Sector)

          These positions control the security forces. The fascists were the muscle that put “Yats” into power, and they demanded the real levers of power as reward.

          4. You say “The legitimacy of the prior regime had also fallen into question with regard to both electoral integrity, criminal corruption, and of course the unjustified use of lethal violence.” However, the elections were widely declared free and fair. And the riots started when Yanukovich rejected a crappy EU proposal, not because he was “corrupt.” To say otherwise is revisionist propaganda. And even the claim of Yanukovich used lethal force is in question as there are reports that the thugs controlled the snipers on Feb 22.

          6. Smedlayev made a couple of claims of irregularities (as well as claiming 99% of Tatars boycotted). Are there others? I’m not aware of them.

          Moreover, you say “Serious international observers were not allowed.” But apparently you dont know that OSCE Chairman Didier Burkhalter said before the referendum occurred that it “must be considered illegal” and ruled out sending OSCE observers. Burkhalter claimed they had to be invited by the usurpers in Kyiv, and not the Crimeans themselves.

          • Adam Colligan says:

            1. The Russian naval base was not under any kind of serious, immediate armed threat. If by “protect their naval base”, you mean “to ensure that it is permanently in their possession and will never have its lease ended”, Russia has no fundamental right to that.

            Putin has made up and exaggerated claimed threats against sub-populations including Jews.

            President of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee Eduard Dolinsky said that the community did “not feel any specific threat at this moment. And we can solve any issues inside our country in dialogue with all political forces peacefully.”

            “We are very skeptical of Mr. Putin’s assertion that he is coming to fight fascism and anti-Semitism” in Ukraine, he added.

            “It’s ridiculous. We don’t need protection from fascists,” said Dolinsky. “We were shocked when he used this as an excuse for the invasion. This is absolutely unacceptable.”

            The insistence on trying to claim that the threat from the right within Ukraine is fundamentally worse than the threat from Putin is suspect in both its origins and consequences. It seems to originate from a desire to latch onto any perspective that lessens the menace of a US adversary in order to lessen justification for any US action — if the US government is the enemy that has someone’s primary focus, the enemy of your enemy keeps looking like it’s a friend.

            The consequence of this is a set of crazy contortions, including trying to effectively accuse the Israeli far right of anti-Semitism.

            Especially given the neo-fascist environment that Putin cultivates in Russia, it again seems laughable to view Russian annexation of any territory anywhere as some kind of civil libertarian act. But the other uncomfortable truth here is that Russia did not exactly wait for any feared reprecussions of the acting Ukrainian government’s policies to materialize before occupying and annexing. Hell, there’s an election scheduled for May that could well have severely weakened the standing of the far right, which one could argue is artificially inflated due to its role in the protests.

            To the contrary, anonymized Russian solders and Russian-supported groups have been at the forefront of instigating tensions and street clashes in order to hype the danger to Russian interests, not trying to calm them down in preparation for an orderly election that would determine where the political winds are really blowing.

            At the end of your reply there, your point seems to have shifted from the idea of a threat to Russian-speaking civilians or Jews or gays or other fascist targets to the “threatened alignment with NATO” of the Ukrainian government, whatever its ideological tendencies. Certainly, it would not be a fabrication to say that there was a renewed ascendancy of forces in Ukraine that favor integration with EU/NATO structures and not Russian ones. But, provided that this alignment is only truly solidified after elections by a government with a proper mandate, and provided that any revocation of the naval base lease is in in orderly keeping with existing agreements, Putin has no right to use force to stop it. Whether the US cheers or condemns the interim government or this or that minister has no bearing on that lack of right.

            2. Is your argument here that instead of swallowing the interim government whole, even with the inclusion of forces it finds dangerous and distasteful, the US government instead should have dictated terms in which the recognition of the parliament’s governing legitimacy is predicated on a certain list of people being included or not included in certain positions? Yanukovich was/is gone from the scene, and there was and is nothing practical that the US could do about that. Given the players in Kiev that are left and the choices they made in the Rada to organize, i feel like there is no US action that you would not have condemned. If the US dictates who is in or out, then it is the puppeteer, responsible for everything that happens, and any vaguely right-wing person involved in the interim government is a “US-backed neofascist.” If the US recognizes the interim government’s de-facto legitimacy leading up to the election but takes a hands-off approach, then somehow it is *also* responsible for the (even higher numbers of) right-wing figures involved in it.

            It seems to me that a much more realistic perspective is to understand the extent of right-wing participation in the interim government as an expression the US’ limited ability to impose its preferences, particularly when doing so would only have an impact for a period of weeks before the May elections and would be sure to invite a backlash from the likes of Putin and ess emm.

            3. My use of the phrase “seat of power” was clearly paired with my identification of the electoral base in that part of the country. As I noted above and in my original reply, the inclusion of right-wing officials is problematic. And my strong take on it was that it enhances even more the urgency of holding proper elections. If it is the case that right-wing forces are taking a disproportionate share of power in the interim government not because the electorate shares their ideology but becuase they were instrumental in the overthrow of the Yanukovich government, then real elections will diminish their power substantially.

            This is an extension of what I think is the core problem of your position here: you are endorsing Putin’s right to take drastic, concrete, and permanent measures in response to what — at least in terms of “neo-fascist” social ideology — looks like a vague and probebly temporary problem (the disproportionate influence of Rigth Sector-related individuals in the pre-May interim government).

            4-5. It is true that the protests and the occupatin of the Maidan initially took place in response to what was a decision on a trade deal that was apparently the prerogative of the government at the time. And demands for the government to reverse that decision or step down called into question the democratic bona fides of the protesters, an issue I raised at the time. When the Rada reconvened and started passing measures, I also raised the question of how problematic it would be for the interim government to go too far in cracking down on separatism.

            However, the actual departure of Yanukovich took place after that dispute over the EU deal had morphed into a much more serious dispute over his use of violence. And I think it is sily to mention “revisionist propaganda” in the same paragraph that you brush away this violence with a vague suggestion about reports that the snipers were some sort of false flag. Further, the looting of the country and the human rights violations uncovered *after* the ouster of Yanukovich are relevant insofar as they made it impossible to support his return as a legitimate leaders — he is rightly liable to arrest if he sets foot back in the country. This sets the background against which US decisions have to be made about whom to support and how much influence to exert.

            And that is why I placed so much emphasis on the need for a real campaign toward real free and fair elections as soon as possible. Questioning the legitimacy of the interim government is not enough when the old regime is so discredited, since the old regime can’t come back. You totally miss the mark when you try to answer this by making a point about how the facts that discredit it were either not in the light or were not important when the forces that led to the overthrow were initially instigated. The point — a point I made clearly — is that Ukraine *then* found itself in a circumstance where the only path to legitimacy was a new election. And so anyone trying to take drastic measures in the interim would be doing so without a proper mandate of legitimacy.

            No political leader inside or outside of Ukraine had a mandate to go changing the country’s borders during this interim period, particularly when the fears about “neo-fascist” elements in the new government were just that, fears, and ones whose basis would be up for serious revision upon a new government being elected properly.

            6. “A few claims of irregularities”? Have you been under a rock? For starters, I’ll just repeat what I already said:

            There was no time for a real popular debate. Kiev-based Ukrainian media was blocked during the supposed campaign period. Anonymized Russian soldiers, along with pro-Russian militias and biker gangs, intimidaded both the population and journalists without recourse. Serious international monitors were not allowed. Significant reports of voting irregularities, involving the integrity of voter lists, multiple and ineligible voting, and counting processes, were not acknowledged or investigated. The turnout reported was impossibly high. The 97 percent in favor figure is very obviously not reflective of the divide on the peninsula, even if there truly is a pro-Russian majority. And the immediate move by the authorities against Tatars regarding land rights should put to rest any notion that this is some kind of emergency process to ensure minority protection.

            And as a side note, I don’t understand how you simultaneously hold two points of view: (a) that the government in Kiev was illegitimate due to its holding parliamentary votes in a climate of intimidation, and (b) that the provincial government of Crimea was legitimate in spite of the fact that it held its emergency session while occupied by 50 gunmen who installed machine guns at the entrances and while selectively admitting entry and hoisting a Russian flag.

  2. ess emm says:

    1. There are other Dolinsky quotes like here, here, and here that make it seem that there is reason for concern. But if you want to wait until people are beaten and hauled off, that’s your right.

    I think at bottom, if in some alternative universe the neo-fascist putschists had actually been able to get elected then your argument about Putin’s right to the naval base would have merit. But since that right has been threatened by naked force it had to be responded to. And it was responded to in two ways, the referendum and the troops.

    2. The USG should not recognize the un-elected putschists in Kyiv, full stop. The putschists would never had been able to overthrow Yanukovich without the muscle of the neo-fascist thugs. If the USG supports the overthrow, they support the thugs that made it happen.

    3. You seem to be willing to overlook that the “problematic” neo-fascists control the security forces. Relying on elections when the neo-fascists are beating up television station directors is naive. It’s not a “temporary problem.”

    4. You say

    No political leader inside or outside of Ukraine had a mandate to go changing the country’s borders during this interim period, particularly when the fears about “neo-fascist” elements in the new government were just that, fears, and ones whose basis would be up for serious revision upon a new government being elected properly.

    The Crimean referendum was just such a mandate. It’s acceptable because the old Ukraine is dead. What’s more, it’s astonishing how you like to say the neo-facists are “problematic,” but that there is nothing to “fear.”

    6. I read it the first time. You added nothing of substance. Not even to respond to my observation that your claim the “serious international monitors were not allowed” was true only if you had said the OSCE prohibited it.

    Finally, regarding your last paragraph. Please provide the quote where I wrote that.

  3. ess emm says:

    Rethinking what? Ukraine is a very dangerous place.

    b at moonofalabama speculates that Muzychko’s death foreshadows a purge of the fascists, and maybe he’s right, but I really dont know what conclusion can be drawn from the assassination of one gangster.

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