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Russia backs Syria, firmly, as UN prepares chemical weapons probe

The diplomatic impasse over Syria deepens, as Russia blasts moves to recognize the Syrian opposition and demands to be represented in the UN investigation into alleged use of chemical weapons.

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Nesirky also said that the investigation will focus on technical issues and on determining whether or not chemical weapons were used – and not on determining who used them.

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President Obama has said the use of chemical weapons in the Syria conflict would be a “red line” for the US. Some regional analysts speculate that a determination that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons would trigger deeper US involvement in the conflict, perhaps a US decision to arm the rebels.

The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, hinted as much in a statement last week supporting Ban’s decision to launch an investigation. “If Bashar al-Assad and those under his command make the mistake of using chemical weapons, or fail to meet their obligation to secure them, then there will be consequences,” Ambassador Rice said

It was the Syrian regime that originally requested that Ban launch an investigation of the Aleppo incident. But according to some analysts, Russia now wants to make sure that the investigation doesn’t end up a pretext for Western intervention in the conflict – in the way the US used allegations of Iraq’s (as it turned out, nonexistent) WMDs to launch the Iraq invasion.

But Russia is not limiting its unflagging support for Assad to the chemical weapons investigation.

Moscow reacted swiftly this week when the Arab League turned Syria's seat in the organization over to the opposition, and as Qatar – which was hosting an Arab League summit – gave the Syrian opposition the keys to Syria’s embassy in Doha, the Qatari capital. Russia said it was "illegal" and "anti-Syrian" for Qatar to hand over the embassy.

The Assad regime said Qatar had illegally given the embassy to a band of “bandits and thugs,” and the official Syrian news agency SANA reacted by calling Qatar “the biggest bank for supporting terrorism in the region.” Assad regularly dismisses the opposition battling him as “terrorists.”

Some UN diplomats say Russia – which at one point last year seemed to be softening its support for Assad – has recently “tacked harder” toward the regime’s defense, as one diplomat says.

That hardening has convinced the UN’s special representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, that his goal of getting even some minimal form of Security Council action on Syria remains unrealistic.

And that sidelining of the special representative’s role in trying to reach some political settlement of the Syrian war has only added to a resignation that the diplomatic stalemate – and the violence – are not about to end.

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