POLITICS

Putin warns Americans of Syria strike risks in NYT op-ed

09/12/2013 11:02 EDT | Updated 11/12/2013 05:12 EST
Russian President Vladimir Putin warns in a New York Times op-ed Thursday that a U.S. military strike against Syria could "unleash a new wave of terrorism" and that Americans shouldn't think of themselves as exceptional.

The opinion piece, headlined "A Plea for Caution From Russia," lays out the Russian president's predicted consequences of the U.S. following through on its threat to use force in response to the chemical weapons attack last month in Syria.

Its publication comes as Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov sit down in Geneva to sort out details around Syria handing over control of its chemical weapons to the international community. That commitment was made earlier this week, but there is plenty of skepticism around whether it will actually happen.

Putin argues in the op-ed that a strike could:

- Result in more innocent victims.

- Spread the conflict beyond Syria's borders.

- Increase violence and "unleash a new wave of terrorism."

- Destabilize Middle East and North Africa.

- Undermine efforts to deal with the "Iranian nuclear problem."

The Russian president writes that his country is not trying to protect the Syrian government but rather, international law, and that the United Nations Security Council should be used to prevent international relations from "sliding into chaos."

"The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not," Putin wrote. Use of force is only acceptable if it is in self-defence or if the Security Council approves it, he goes on to say, anything else would amount to an act of aggression.

Russia is one of the five permanent members of the UN body and has previously blocked efforts to condemn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime with its veto power.

The op-ed states that no one doubts poison gas was used in Syria but the opposition forces are responsible, not Assad, according to Putin. They used chemical weapons to "provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists," he wrote.

Putin then criticizes the United States, saying that it is commonplace for it to intervene in internal conflicts around the world and offers his assessment about the effectiveness of military actions in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. model of democracy

"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.' But force has proved ineffective and pointless," he wrote.

He also wrote that he listened to Obama's address to the nation on Tuesday night, and didn't like what he heard when Obama said his country's policy is what makes it different and exceptional.

"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," Putin wrote. "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."

He added though that there is "growing trust" between him and Obama and that he appreciates that.

Putin said he wrote the op-ed because he wanted to speak directly to Americans and their political leaders given the "insufficient communication" between Russia and the United States.

Democrat Senator Robert Menendez told CNN reading the op-ed almost made him want to vomit and Democrat Senator Tammy Baldwin dismissed Putin's comments as "bluster."

"I think it's pretty clear that the whole purpose of that was to try to weaken our resolve and to try and make sure that we would not fulfill our pledge to conduct military action if we have to," said Leon Panetta, former defence secretary, on NBC. "I think he was trying to, in his own way, weaken the United States and the effort to negotiate these issues."