Click here for Syria coverage
But Assad may have more to gain than Russian goodwill by embracing the chemical-weapons compromise. Now that the general boundaries of a defensible mini-state has emerged on the battlefield, roughly from Damascus to the Mediterranean, time increasingly appears to be on Assad's side. Chemical-weapons experts predict that securing and dismantling Syria's arsenal will be an epic project lasting several years, and would require the deployment of thousands of foreign troops on the ground -- some of whom would almost certainly find themselves caught in the crossfire of a civil war. Cooperation with the Chemical Weapons Convention, in fact, may present Assad with ample opportunities to drag out a process that makes the regime a key partner in an internationally approved disarmament process. By cooperating but drawing out the process, the regime potentially buys time to carry on its sectarian cleansing campaign.
The diplomatic back-and-forth created by the Russian proposal has already drained momentum from the White House push for military, with the U.S. Congress dropping a vote on the resolution to support that option. No surprise, then, that Syria's rebel opposition has vociferously rejected the Russian proposal.
"We call for strikes and we warn the international community that this regime tells lies, and the liar Putin is its teacher," Free Syrian Army leader Salim Idris told Al-Jazeera Wednesday.
Now that the U.S. and Russia have agreed on a plan to dispose of Assad's chemical arsenal, slowly giving up those weapons might not even be a bad strategy for Assad. After all, chemical weapons-capability works better as a strategic asset rather than a tactical weapon, and the Syrian government can keep killing its own people with or without them. The regime is believed by analysts to have acquired its chemical-weapons arsenal as a relatively inexpensive low-tech strategic counter to Israel's overwhelming military superiority and undisclosed nuclear arsenal –- indeed, Syria's ambassador to the U.N. Bashar al-Jaafari, said Thursday that "the chemical weapons in Syria are a mere deterrence against the Israeli nuclear arsenal."
But Israel, which is increasingly concerned about the rise of extremist rebel groups in Syria, may no longer be seen as much of a threat to the survival of the Assad regime. Many in Israel's security establishment are mindful of the fact that rhetoric and support for Hezbollah and Hamas aside, successive Assad regimes have kept the Israeli-Syrian border quiet for the past four decades.
Of course, there are risks for Assad if a credible weapons-collection program gets underway. The deal could begin to undermine the logic of Assad's argument that he is indispensable to regional stability on the grounds that the collapse of his regime could potentially put chemical weapons in the hands of Hezbollah, al-Qaeda or both. The introduction of an international force into Syria might also unintentionally create international witnesses to the regime's atrocities.
The recent developments coming from talks about Syria's chemical weapons arsenal could also be the start of the kind of diplomatic brokering -- bringing together the main foreign powers fueling the proxy civil war inside Syria -- required to end the war. And if Russia and Iran are willing to throw Assad's chemical-weapons program under the bus, perhaps -- for the right diplomatic price -- they might someday do the same to Assad himself. But in the short term, at least, Assad seems to be signing on to a process that potentially makes him an instrumental player in negotiations over Syria's fate for years to come.