Putin pens NYT op-ed urging 'caution' in Syria
In a rare move, Russian President Vladimir Putin took his case for caution in Syria directly to the American people, writing an op-ed for Thursday's New York Times that went live online Wednesday night.
In the piece — headlined "A Plea for Caution From Russia" — Putin warned that a potential strike by the United States in Syria could unleash a new wave of terrorism, increase violence and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa.
Noting that there are "few champions of democracy in Syria," Putin urged the United States to abide by the laws of the United Nations Security Council — and not rely on what he described as a "dangerous" sense of American exceptionalism.
"Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council," Putin wrote.
"Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression."
Enumerating a list of countries in which the United States has intervened militarily in the past — including Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq — Putin points out that "force has proved ineffective and pointless."
"In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes," he wrote.
"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,'" Putin added.
In Syria's case, Putin emphasized, the two-year conflict is not a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between the regime of President Bashar Assad and an assortment of "enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government" with the assistance of foreign weapons.
The Russian president even went as far as to claim the poison gas attacks — which he does not deny took place — were at the hand of opposition forces "to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists."
Of Russia's support of Assad, Putin wrote he favored a "peaceful dialogue" under the Security Council's provisions.
"We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law," he wrote, adding that any kind of military strike — even a tailored one as the Obama administration had described — would incur civilian casualties.
Putin failed to mention that Russia, along with China, are often the biggest impediments to Security Council action — or that Russia's last military base outside of the former Soviet Union is located in Tartus, Syria.
The Russian strongman's plea comes directly on the heels of President Barack Obama's own address to the American people. On Tuesday, Obama spoke to the country on prime-time television, announcing that he would put off a military strike and work with Russia, China and American allies to get Syria to give up its chemical weapons.
Russia reshaped the Syria crisis by proposing two days ago that Syria could try to avoid an American attack by handing its chemical weapons over to international control.
But there are signs that Russia will complicate such a process. On Tuesday, Russia blocked a resolution crafted by the United States, France and Britain that would have called on Syria to turn over the weapons and threatened U.N. military enforcement.
Putin said he welcomed Obama's interest in continuing the dialogue on Russia's proposal -- but not before he cautioned against the case of American exceptionalism he said Obama made in his Tuesday speech.
"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation," he wrote.
This was not Putin’s first op-ed in the New York Times. In November 1999, he penned an editorial to address terrorism and violence in the Caucasus region, with an emphasis on Chechnya.