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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Elena Chernenko and Evgenii Khvostik

NEW YORK — At long last, the members of the United Nations Security Council have reached an agreement on a Syria resolution. The West has agreed to give up on including language that Russia had furiously opposed — that is, to automatically sanction the use of force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if he fails to destroy his chemical weapons stockpiles.

Without the UN resolution’s adoption, it was impossible for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to start implementing the Russian-American plan to establish international control over Syria’s chemical arsenal. For two weeks, the members of the security council could not agree on the text of the resolution, because the West persistently argued that including the automatic penalty if Assad failed to comply would be the only way to ensure that he kept his word.

Russia and China were both against this automatic use of force — instead insisting that each instance of alleged non-compliance would first have to be reviewed by the security council before any action was taken. Russia’s argument was that Assad’s opponents are hoping for an international intervention, and their interests would not be served by success of the OPCW mission. “If the regime really gives all of its chemical arsenal up, then it will be impossible to accuse the regime of organizing chemical attacks against civilians, which would mean that the reason for intervention would disappear,” a Russian diplomatic source explained. “That is not in the opposition’s best interest.”

If the resolution’s text had included an automatic penalty, then any departure from the OPCW plan — whether a chemical attack or the leak of chemical weapons outside of the country — would give free rein to the countries who want to punish Assad. Moscow was afraid that the opposition would do something to provoke that scenario. President Vladimir Putin recently said that he considered the Aug. 21 chemical attack near Damascus “provocation from Syrian opposition fighters.”

Conflicting “proof”

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Sergey Lavrov, Putin’s Decoy-In-Chief

The Russian Foreign Minister, among the country’s most recognizable figures, embodies both the corruption and confusion of the Putin regime. Not everything is what it seems — and that’s the point.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a diplomatic reception for heads of African diplomatic missions

Anna Akage

From the outside, one might have the impression that the Russian Federation is run through a highly complex and well-coordinated apparatus that ensures that any single cog in Vladimir Putin’s system is by definition both in synch with the other cogs — and utterly replaceable. The Kremlin appears to us through this lens as an impregnable citadel with long arms and peering eyes that are literally everywhere.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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And yet, this is a completely false picture — and there’s no greater proof than in looking more closely at one of Russia's most prominent figures, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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