The KGB used to specialize in a form of political subversion and sabotage known as "active measures," which included everything from clandestine assassinations of dissidents to the spread of disinformation and counterfeit intelligence designed to hoodwink and weaken the West. At their most elegant, active measures were intended to make a dupe feel that he himself had originated some ultimately self-defeating idea or stratagem when the true credit belonged to Moscow Center. The quixotic and idiotic plan to try and rid Bashar al-Assad of his chemical weapons in the midst of a punishing civil war did not arise because of a gaffe made by John Kerry. We know from the New York Times that it arose because Vladimir Putin broached it to the president of the United States at the G20 in St. Petersburg, and the president then duly conveyed it to his national security advisor Susan Rice, who then briefed Kerry, who then said the following in London about how Assad might avoid US airstrikes for unleashing sarin gas in Damascus: "He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously."
It can't be done, obviously, but Kerry already knew that Russia was interested in pretending it can be, and that's what counted. It's open to speculation as to whether the secretary of state subconsciously channeled prior information and ad-libbed the above or he was instructed in the most delicate way possible to issue a public RSVP to the Kremlin's invitation. Whatever the case, the White House would have a still-admiring press believe that it was just as surprised as everyone else that one of Kerry's allegedly uncorked moments at the podium suddenly led to a "diplomatic breakthrough." The timing and circumstances of this deal are beyond suspect. The United States was in an obvious bind. Its commander-in-chief didn't want to go to war with Syria and was nonetheless asking Congress to authorize one. Faced with the prospect of legislative defeat and national humiliation, Barack Obama needed rescuing from his own famed ambivalence. Who better for the job than the ever constant KGB czar bearing not only a late-breaking offer but a way for the administration to argue that it had been the one to accidentally precipitate it?
I cannot recall another episode in American history in which Washington's top diplomat was called a liar one week by a head of state, only to then be embraced as a partner in peace the next week by that state's foreign minister. Obama has gone from being a squish on crimes against humanity to acting as a junior broker to Moscow's conflict resolution, never mind that the conflict is largely of Moscow's own making. Putin, meanwhile, has gone from prevailing upon "the Nobel Peace Prize winner" to being advanced by his own state-controlled news organs as the next nominee for that overrated laurel. More important, as the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia wrote in a glowing editorial for its own side, Russia has gone from being a pariah for persecuting gays, harboring a fugitive American intelligence contractor, and arming and defending a criminal regime, to being a full-fledged superpower again. "In a way that previously had been inconceivable," the paper's Boris Mezhuyev wrote, "Russia returned the international authority to itself."
Still, only a brash American exceptionalist would balk at Russia's return to geopolitical prominence if the yields of this proposal weren't so imaginary. The US and Russia don't agree on the details and it's the details that matter. The US wants to keep naval warships in the Mediterranean until Assad complies with chemical disarmament. Russia says those ships can go home now. "We proceed from the fact that the solution of this problem will make unnecessary any strike on the Syrian Arab Republic," Lavrov said on the first day of his three-day wrangle with Kerry in Geneva about chemical disarmament. "I am convinced that our American colleagues, as President Obama stated, are firmly convinced that we should follow peaceful way of resolution of conflict in Syria." This means the US should back off and let Russia help Assad finish off the armed opposition by other means, which it's already started to do. In the last week, "[w]arplanes dropped bombs over far-flung Syrian towns that hadn't seen airstrikes in weeks, government forces went on the attack in the hotly contested suburbs of Damascus," noted the Washington Post.
Syria will formally accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention on October 14, according to Ban Ki-Moon. Yet, Assad has already thrown up plenty of preconditions for compliance with sequestration and destruction of his sarin, VX, mustard, and sulfur stockpiles and precursor agents, in an interview with another Russian state media outlet, Rossiya 24. These preconditions include but are probably not limited to the following: Israel should ratify Convention first (it has only signed it); the US should stop arming the Syrian opposition at a time when the US has only just begun arming it; and airstrikes should be categorically abandoned. Only then, Assad said, would a full accounting of the his WMD program be able to commence in 30 days time from date of accession, which is standard procedure under the fine print of the Convention.