The “bad boy” president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has a message for the American people, and in a conveniently timed viral column that The New York Times published on September 11, Putin bypasses political pleasantries and gets right to business.
“Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies,” he begins, referring to the United States’ desires to see the Assad regime blown away for deploying sarin gas.
Putin talked about the failure of the League of Nations followed by the founding of the United Nations, occurring in the wake of the world’s bloodiest wars to date: “No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.” The implication here is that the United States would be responsible for the collapse of both international efforts.
Putin articulated his own frank opinions on the desires of the United States to strike Syria: “[Striking Syria] will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”
Putin also defended Russia’s role while simultaneously attacking U.S. wars on foreign soil: “From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law… No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army… It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan ‘you’re either with us or against us.'”
As to the White House’s response, the BBC has reported White House spokesman Jay Carney saying that “the military is ready, and it is waiting for a certain period of time. it will not negatively affect their ability to inflict the kind of damage that we envision on Assad’s capabilities if that were to become necessary; we should pursue this diplomatic avenue and we are.”
Politico quoted a senior administration official as adding that “President Putin has invested his credibility in transferring Assad’s chemical weapons to international control, and ultimately destroying them. The world will note whether Russia can follow through on that commitment.”
The same BBC report followed up with a Free Syrian Army video, which expressed frustration at the Russian plan: “We ask that the international community not be content with withdrawing chemical weapons, which are a criminal instrument, but to hold the perpetrator accountable and prosecute him at the international criminal court. Removing criminal tools is one matter; holding the criminal accountable is another.”
Wrapping up his piece, Putin said optimistically that “If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.”