Russia’s responsibility

Telegraph View: The collapse of Syria has increased the risk of its stockpiles of weapons falling into terrorist hands. The Kremlin has a responsibility to prevent that happening
Telegraph View
7:55AM BST 23 Jul 2012

With the Annan peace plan shredded as the two sides fight to the bitter end, Syria’s descent into civil war is causing outside powers increasing concern. Their involvement is already considerable, with Iran and Russia backing the regime, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey giving military and logistical support to the rebels, and a wide range of governments squeezing the crumbling economy through sanctions.

The latest worry is that, as Syria falls apart, its large stocks of chemical and biological weapons could fall into terrorist hands, whether those of the Lebanese Shia movement Hizbollah or of foreign fighters within the country who have links to al-Qaeda. American and Israeli officials believe that President Bashar al-Assad retains control of these stocks, which include mustard gas and sarin nerve agents. But the devastating suicide bombing in Damascus last week suggests that things are slipping out of the president’s control. How to contain this threat? Israel is weighing the possibility of having to invade Syria to seize the chemical weapons, its main fear being that they could be mounted on missiles by Hizbollah. At the same time, America has reinforced its military presence in the Gulf to dissuade Iranian adventurism, in particular Tehran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.

The missing link in these attempts at containment is Moscow, which in the 1980s helped Syria develop chemical weapons as a counterweight to Israel. Presumably the Russians, who have their own Islamic insurgency in the Caucasus, do not want these arsenals to fall into terrorist hands. But the time for effective intervention is running short. Repeated vetoing of UN Security Council resolutions has left the Kremlin with a heavy responsibility for limiting the fall-out from Syria’s disintegration.

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