MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday it had clearly told the Syrian government it was unacceptable to threaten to use chemical weapons, after Damascus warned it might do so if faced with foreign intervention.
In a meeting with Syria’s ambassador to Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov “laid out in an extremely clear form Russia’s position on the inadmissibility of any threats of the use of chemical weapons”, the ministry said.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said on Monday the country had chemical weapons, adding it would not use them against rebels but might do so against forces from outside Syria.
Bogdanov repeated a call Russia made on Tuesday for Syria to abide by a 1925 international protocol barring the use of poison gases in warfare. Russia says Syria signed the protocol in 1925.
Earlier on Wednesday, state-owned news agency Itar-Tass quoted another Russian deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, as saying Moscow had received firm assurances from Damascus that the security of the chemical arsenal was “fully safeguarded”.
Russia vehemently opposes any foreign military intervention in Syria, but the nuclear-armed former Cold War superpower sees itself as one of the top guarantors, with the United States, of the security of weapons of mass destruction.
The sharp statement on Wednesday echoed what diplomats say has been firm but private Russian advice to the Syrian government to end speculation that it might use chemical weapons.
It appeared intended to distance Russia from the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whom Moscow has protected from tougher global action over 16 months of bloodshed by vetoing Security Council resolutions.
Analysts say revelations about Syria’s chemical weapons will not prompt Russia to shift its stance on Syria, dropping its opposition to foreign intervention or its insistence that Assad’s exit must not be a precondition for a political process.
Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Andrew Roche