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

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.

Russian president says strike could 'unleash a new wave of terrorism'

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow on Thursday, Sept.12, 2013, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that discourages the United States from considering a military strike on Syria. (Maxim Shemetov/Associated Press)

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.

Boehner 'insulted' by Putin's op-ed

"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.

The op-ed triggered reaction in Washington including from House Speaker John Boehner who told reporters he was "insulted" by what Putin wrote. He didn't elaborate on what especifically he found offensive.

Democrat Senator Robert Menendez told CNN that reading the op-ed almost made him want to vomit. "It really raises the questions of how serious this Russian proposal is," said Menendez.

Obama not surprised by Putin's opinion

Democrat Senator Tammy Baldwin dismissed Putin's comments as "bluster" when she spoke on CNN's New Day earlier Thursday. "We know, and we're clear-eyed, about who Putin is and that Russia is an ally of the Assad regime," she said, adding that the focus should be kept on the diplomatic process now underway.

"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 [Putin] was trying to, in his own way, weaken the United States and the effort to negotiate these issues."

Obama did not respond when asked by reporters what he thought of the op-ed but White House spokesman, Jay Carney, later said at a briefing that the White House wasn't surprised by what Putin wrote.

"But the fact is that Russia offers a stark contrast that demonstrates why America is exceptional. Unlike Russia, the United States stands up for democratic values and human rights in our own country and around the world," he said. Carney added that Russia is alone in blaming the opposition for the chemical weapons attack last month in Syria.

"I think it's worth also pointing out that there's a great irony in the placement of an op-ed like this because it reflects the truly exceptional tradition in this country of freedom of expression and that is not a tradition shared in Russia, by Russia, and in fact, freedom of expression has been on the decrease over the past dozen or so years in Russia," Carney said.