12 Sep 2013

From Russia with love: President Putin appeals to America

Vladimir Putin appeals directly to the nation in a US paper, calling on the American public to steer clear of “brute force” in Syria, as the Russian foreign minister prepares to meet with John Kerry.

Vladimir Putin writes a letter to America criticising its 'brute force' and calling for a democratic resolution to the Syria crisis (picture: Getty)

The Russian president used a 1,000-word article in the New York Times to tell the US population that their country is not seen as a model of democracy by millions around the world.

“Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders,” President Putin wrote.

A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. Vladimir Putin

“It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.”

President Putin has been behind a plan that would see Bashar al-Assad‘s chemical weapons arsenal put under international control.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew out to Geneva for a meeting with Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the plan.

In a press conference, Mr Lavrov said that the Russia-backed plan would involve Syria joining the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits the use of the weapons, before disclosing where their weapons are and allowing experts to be involved in their disposal.

‘More innocent victims’

In the article Mr Putin said he welcomed Barack Obama’s willingness to engage with this plan, as a way to avoid a military strike.

He said a strike by the US would increase terrorism and destabilise the region.

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Vladimir Putin

He wrote: “The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the Pope, 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.”

International posturing, internal trouble

Professor Robert Orttung, co-editor of Russian Analytical Digest, and assistant director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University has a simple explanation for Putin’s sudden interest in journalism: “He just wants to make Russia seem relevant,” he told Channel 4 News.

Professor Orttung says that Putin’s play for the limelight over the Syrian crisis is partly due to Russian interests in the area, but largely because of domestic pressures. “It’s partly to protect Russian interests in the area but Putin faces a lot of renewed opposition on the domestic scene. If you look at what the Russian government does, it’s always about domestic policy.

“With the poorer economic performance in the past few years and the rejeuventation of opposition under Nalvany and other figures, Putin needs to have something to distract people with. If you turn on Russian TV, the channel is all about Syria, what Putin said about Syria and what Obama said about Putin.” Order and stability

And of course in the (formerly) stable but cruel Assad dictatorship, Putin sees reflections of his own government. “Putin always talks about order. In his view, Assad provides order and stability in Syria and Putin sees himself providing order and stability in Russia.

“Putin’s point about western intervention is that it will empower groups like Al-Queada, but a point that is often missed, is that dictators like Assad empower those groups as well. “He doesn’t have an alternative solution to that,” Professor Orttung says.

‘Brute force’

And President Putin also used the article to criticise the way in which the US conducts itself on the global stage.

“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States,” he wrote. “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’.”

‘Not exceptional’

The Russian president said that though it was clear chemical weapons had been used in Syria, but said there was “every reason to believe” the culprits were the rebels, trying to provoke an international response.

He said Russia was not trying to protect Syria, but protect international law.

He also said the UN could suffer the same fate as the League of Nations, which was dissolved in 1946 after failing to prevent WWII, if the US were to act without security council backing.

Watch again: Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson in Beirut: "Russian plan won't work"

President Putin added that he rejected the assertions made by President Obama in a televised address on Tuesday, that America is “exceptional”.

The US president said in the address: “When with modest effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.

“That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.”

President Putin closed his article by criticising this statement, saying: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.

“There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.

“We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”