A huge collective sigh of relief from the White House, Congress, and Bashar Assad’s palace in Damascus was heard round the world earlier this week when the Russians came to the rescue. The unlikely savior — the cynical and calculating Vladimir Putin — seized the moment in the Syria quagmire by offering a lifeline of sorts to the struggling American and Syrian governments. The deal — Syria would give up the chemical weapons it vowed for decades it never had, and there would be no need for American air strikes.
But since then, inconvenient facts about the Russian offer have begun to cloud the picture. The Russians don’t want a UN agreement to be binding and can’t be pinned down on how much time Assad should have to comply. It’s not clear which organization would take custody of the weapons. Most importantly, Putin disagrees that the United States would have the right to use force if Syria reneges on the agreement. And Assad himself was ominously silent on whether he will give personal support to this deal.