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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has made a statement and reports are coming in at this hour that indicate that Russian forces in Syria have taken control of Assad's chemical weapons.

If these reports are true it should bring a huge sigh of relief from the people he might chose to use them on in his desperation. We should also hear a sigh of relief in the region and throughout the world if it means that those stockpiles are now in safer hands and now less of a pawn in the whole Syrian situation.

Presumably the Russians can keep them out of opposition hands as well, including the jhadists, and won't be inclined to share them with Hezbullah either. This would also relieve the West of the excuse of intervening after the victory in the name of protecting Syria's chemical weapons.

Of course the Russians will probably use their control to bargain with the opposition but that bridge can be crossed latter.

Generally a good development all round, I would say.

I wonder if the White House had some "heads up" from the Russians and that's why they said that they didn't consider recent movements of Syria's chemical weapons a violation of Obama's red-line.

More below the fold and even more later!!!

BREAKING: Lavrov says Assad not welcomed in Russia!
see below

From CNN we have this report:

Russia: Syria consolidates its chemical weapons

By CNN Staff
December 22, 2012 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Syria has consolidated its chemical weapons into one of two locations from its usual places scattered across the country, Russia's foreign minister said Saturday.

The move comes as unrest in the country extends to nearly two years, with rebels making gains recently.

"As of right now... the [Syrian] government is doing all it can to safeguard those weapons," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.

"We are following all leads concerning chemical weapons," the foreign minister said, adding that the consolidation was a measure to assuage fears that such weapons could end up in "the wrong hands," the agency reported. More...

The Israeli based and intel savy DEBKAfile put it more bluntly:
Russian forces take Syrian chemical, biological weapons under control

December 22, 2012, 2:48 PM (GMT+02:00)
 The chemical warfare threat looming over Syria’s civil war and its neighbors has taken an epic turn with the announcement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Saturday, Dec. 22, that “the Syrian government has “consolidated its chemical weapons in one or two locations amid a rebel onslaught and they are under control for the time being.”
He added that Russia, “which has military advisers training Syria’s military, has kept close watch over its chemical arsenal.”
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report: The Russian foreign minister’s statement was a message to Washington that the transfer of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction to one or two protected sites was under Russian control. This had removed the danger of them falling into the hands of the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra ,which had come ominously close Friday, Dec. 21, when the Islamists spearheaded a Syrian rebel assault for the capture of the al-Safira military complex and Bashar Assad’s chemical and biological stores.

Lavrov did not go into detail about how this arsenal was removed and to which locations. But his reference to “Russian military advisers training Syria’s military” clearly indicated that Russian forces were directly involved in removing the WMD out of the reach of the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists.
His assertion that they were “under control” indicated that Russia was also involved in safeguarding them.

debkafile’s Moscow sources add: Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war achieved four objectives:

1.  The prevention of Western or Israel military action for seizing control of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons arsenals;

2.   The prevention of Western military intervention in the civil war behind the forces dedicated to the removal of Bashar Assad. The Russian military is now engaged in the dual mission of guarding his WMD arsenal and his regime;
3.  The Russian military presence in Syria delivers a heavy swipe to the rebels;
4.   Russia’s intervention and military presence have laid the groundwork for Moscow and Washington to work out an accord that will bring Syria’s civil war to an end. More...

EAWorldView has this further report:
1200 GMT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has pulled back from comments by President Vladimir Putin distancing Moscow from the Syrian regime, declaring: "Listen, no one is going to win this war. Assad is not going anywhere, no matter what anyone says, be it China or Russia."

Lavrov repeated that Russia had rejected requests from countries in the region to pressure Assad to go or offer him safe haven, and said his exit might lead to an upsurge in fighting:

Some regional powers suggested that we tell Assad we were ready to accommodate him. And we replied: "Why do we have to do it? If you have these plans, go to him yourselves directly."
On Thursday Putin said in a press conference, "[We are] advocating the solution which would prevent the collapse of the region and the continuous civil war....not retaining al-Assad and his regime at any price."

Lavrov also said the regime's chemical weapons had been concentrated in one or two areas and were "under control" for the time being. He claimed the biggest threat was that the weapons could fall into the hands of militants.

Form the Hurriyet Daily News we have this report:
Russia says it won’t host Assad but others welcome

December 22 2012, 10:58:31 pst

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow would welcome any country’s offer of a safe haven to Syrian President Bashar Assad, but underlined that Moscow itself has no intention of giving him shelter if he steps down, AP has reported.

Russia has used its veto right at the U.N. Security Council to protect its old ally from international sanctions, but it has increasingly sought to distance itself from Assad.

Lavrov told reporters late Friday that countries in the region he wouldn’t name publicly had asked Russia to convey their offer of a safe passage to Assad. He said that Russia responded by telling them to go directly to Assad.

"If there is anyone willing to provide him guarantees, they are welcome!" Lavrov told reporters on board a plane returning from Brussels where he attended a Russia-EU summit. "We would be the first to cross ourselves and say: "Thank God, the carnage is over! If it indeed ends the carnage, which is far from certain."

He also said the Syrian government has pulled its chemical weapons together to one or two locations from several arsenals across the country to keep them safe amid the rebel onslaught.

"According to the information we have, as well as the data of the U.S. and European special services, the government is doing everything to secure it," he said. "The Syrian government has concentrated the stockpiles in one or two centers, unlike the past when they were scattered across the country."

U.S. intelligence says the regime may be readying chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them. Both Israel and the U.S. have also expressed concerns they could fall into militant hands if the regime crumbles.

Lavrov added that U.N. peace envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, would visit Moscow for talks before the year’s end.

Russia says West has 'no appetite' for Syria intervention

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday he believed Western powers had no desire to intervene in the Syrian conflict, AFP reported.

"I have a feeling that no one has any appetite for external intervention," Lavrov told journalists travelling with him on a flight to Moscow from an EU-Russia summit in Brussels, quoted by the ITAR-TASS news agency.

"I even have the feeling that they are praying for Russia and China to continue blocking permission for external intervention. Because if there is such a decision, they will have to act, and no one is ready to act," he said. More...

The NY Times has this take on Lavrov's talk:
Russia Says It Won’t Play Role in Ousting Assad

By ELLEN BARRY and KAREEM FAHIM
Published: December 22, 2012
MOSCOW — The foreign minister of Russia, which is among Syria’s most reliable allies, said Saturday that several countries were offering asylum to President Bashar al-Assad to get him to leave Syria, but that Moscow would not mediate on their behalf, according to Russian news services.

“Several countries in the region have turned to us and suggested ‘Tell Assad we are ready to fix him up,’ ” the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, told reporters who accompanied him on a flight home from the Russia-European Union summit meeting in Brussels, in comments carried by the Interfax and RIA-Novosti news agencies. “And we answered ‘What do we have to do with it? If you have such plans, approach him directly.’ ”  More...

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