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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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September 4th, 2013
06:27 PM ET

Is Russia providing chemical weapons to Syria?

Russian President Vladimr Putin said in an interview with the Associated Press and Russian state television that Russia does not exclude the option of a United Nations-backed resolution on military strikes on Syria.

But, "it ought to be convincing. It shouldn't be based on some rumors and information obtained by intelligence agencies through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations, and things like that," Putin said.

Secretary of State John Kerry seemed optimistic about the remarks.

"I would interpret his comments today as hopeful, perhaps at the G-20 he and the president can have a good conversation, and maybe a road forward with Russia where they would consider not blocking action," Kerry said Wednesday.

Putin also said he felt sorry that the president canceled their one-on-one meeting, saying, "We work, we argue about some issues. We are human. Sometimes one of us gets vexed."

It sounds like a couple going through marriage counseling.

But is he extending a hand or being his Cheshire Cat self?

"I think it's the latter," said Julia Ioffe, senior editor of The New Republic. "As one good friend said, Putin doesn't ever exclude anything ... but I doubt he's going to allow Russia to vote yes on intervention in Syria."

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was asked about the source of the chemical weapons that Assad allegedly used against his own people at Wednesday's House hearing.

"There's no secret that the Assad regime has had chemical weapons, significant stockpiles," said Hagel.

When pressed if those weapons came from a particular country, Hagel responded, "Well, the Russians supply them, others are supplying them with those chemical weapons. They make some themselves."

Former State Department spokesman and professor at George Washington University P.J. Crowley said Syria has likely had the chemical weapons for some time.

"This is probably not a new development. Russia, like the United States, is eliminating its chemical stocks, but Syria is one of a handful of countries that have not agreed to the chemical weapons convention. They still see them as a deterrent, and ... as a tool in this broader war," said Crowley.

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not his red line, but the world's. Indeed, a significant majority of the nations have signed on to the chemical weapons treaty. Given that chemical weapons are an atrocity that the world has signed on to oppose, why is the U.S. so alone in advocating a strike against Syria?

"There is far more support privately than we have seen publicly, but I think it really is about Syria," said Crowley. "Syria is a complex country. It's attached to everything in the Middle East. In many of these countries, they're hedging their bets to see ultimately will Assad be defeated, or will he survive."

Behind closed doors, the Obama administration blames Russia for the fact this authorization is not going through the United Nations Security Council. Russia says it's not a relationship of ideology, Syria is simply a client that buys arms and weapons.

"I don't think it's just that," said Ioffe, adding that Secretary of State John Kerry said with Russia, there is also a geopolitical relationship.

"I think Putin especially sees himself as a Cold War guy, he's not shed that mentality. He sees himself as a foil and counterweight to America in the world, so if America attacks somebody we have to defend them, if America defends somebody we have to attack them," said Ioffe.

As for weapons, India buys orders of magnitude more weapons than Syria, said Ioffe, so if Assad goes, Russia can find other clients.

"Through all of the transitions since the cold war, Russia has lost states they supported during the Gulf War, particularly in the Middle East," said Crowley, who compared Putin to former chief of staff to then-President George W. Bush Dick Cheney.

Cheney "saw what he thought was the diminution of executive power, and that animated him. Likewise, Putin as a product of the Cold War has seen Russian influence decrease significantly, and is trying to use various levers, geopolitics where he can, energy where he can, to try and elevate Russian influence," said Crowley.

Kerry said Wednesday that there had been offers from countries – which he would not name – that would pay for the strike on Syria if the U.S. toppled Bashar al-Assad. Those offers likely came from the Gulf states, said Ioffe.

"They're conscious of the fact that the United States is going to do something meaningful, but not something decisive," said Crowley, adding that if the U.S. does not topple Assad, those countries will hedge.

Saudi Arabia also has interests at toppling Assad – it would get at Iran, which would give Saudi Arabia a step up in influence in the region, said Ioffe.

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