Syria News: Russia Urges Syria To Give Up Chemical Weapons

In a new twist, Russia changed course from its traditionally stoic support of the Assad regime to issue a statement urging Syria to hand over its chemical weapons arsenal to outside control. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia has asked Syria to put its chemical weapons under "international control" in order to ultimately be destroyed, ostensibly to avoid U.S. military strikes.

“We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons,” Lavrov said.

This is a change of course for Russia, a country that has been a key international ally for Bashar Assad throughout the country's civil war. Vladamir Putin's government has blocked three resolutions against Syria in the UN Security Council, and has even been skeptical of evidence linking Assad's forces to a chemical attack in Damascus on 21 August.

Lavrov said that Russia will continue to promote a peaceful settlement and still opposes U.S. military action in Syria. He has indicated Russia hopes to convene a gathering of all Syrian opposition figures to join in negotiations. While the change of position is an indication that Russia's blind support for Assad is dwindling, the effort is still seen as a power play by Putin's regime, eager to stave of U.S. action in Syria. In his statements, Lavrov added that a U.S. attack on Syria would be a "fatal blow" to peace efforts.

“Syrian Arab Republic welcomes Russia’s initiative, based on the Syrian’s government care about the lives of our people and security of our country,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem reportedly said in response.

Still, the U.S. has not indicated that it will plan to change its course based on Russia's proposal. After passing the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a 10-7 vote in favor of military action, Congress is scheduled to begin preliminary voting on the issue this Wednesday. 

Update: U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf responded with statements that the administration has "deep and serious skepticism" about Russia's proposal, calling the move a "stalling tactic."