Last updated: 26 September, 2013

Russia offers to guard Syria’s chemical weapons

Russia said on Thursday it was willing to join international efforts to safeguard Syria’s chemical weapons during their destruction under an agreement brokered with Washington.

“When the process of eliminating the chemical weapons reaches its active phase, it will be necessary to provide for the safety of the sites where (the weapons) will be destroyed,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

“The Russian side is ready to help guard these sites” in Syria, Russian news agencies quoted Ryabkov as saying.

The top diplomat visited Damascus earlier this month in an effort to convince Moscow’s ally to accept the terms of a Russian-US initiative that would see the Syrian regime part with its banned chemical weapons stockpile.

The plan was originally hatched as part of Russia’s efforts to shield Assad’s regime from US-led military strikes aimed at punishing the Syrian army’s alleged August 21 gas attack near Damascus that Washington believes killed more than 1,400 people.

Russia argues that the gas attack was probably organised by Syrian rebels who were trying to draw Western and Arab governments on their side of a 30-month conflict that has claimed more than 110,000 lives.

The details of the Syrian disarmament proposal are still under discussion and it remains unclear how the chemical weapons can be destroyed amid the fighting.

Some Western experts have suggested moving at least a part of the dangerous cache abroad so that it can be destroyed in relative safety.

But Ryabkov stressed that Russia was not willing to accept any of the estimated 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons now believed to be stored by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The Russia-US agreement says that all of Syria’s chemical weapons must be destroyed by June 30.