By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN
MOSCOW — 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.
Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.
The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.
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 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.
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.
Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.
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. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.
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, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.
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.”
But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.
No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.
The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.
We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.
A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.
I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.
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.
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us 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. 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.
Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.
Say what you will about the Russians and Mr. Putin in particular. This reaching out is unprecedented. Surely our country and our leaders cannot ignore this gesture from the Russian government. We, at the very least, should meet this offer in sincerity and in the hope, that something good and lasting will come of the discussions between our two nations. The stakes are far too high to let this moment over take either one of our nations. Put aside mistrust and bad feeling for the moment, and try find and do something positive for the world. The killing needs to stop. We really can live in peace with each other if only we would really try.
Chris McMorrow Waltham, Mass
I wish I could feel that Mr. Putin was being sincere here. If nothing else, he has a fabulous writer.
But at my age, having grown up during the Cold War and witnessed all sorts of tricks, lies, distortions, and manipulations by the old Soviet Regime, I just have some doubts. As an ex-KBG agent, Mr. Putin may not be my age, but he was trained in the old Soviet culture.
I think the main thing that really strikes me here is how myopic the US can be to its image around the world. We pay lip service to the idea that certain actions will "surely win us more enmity around the world," but we usually go on our merry way trying to get our way.
So, the benefit of Mr. Putin's assessment here--even if contrived, manipulative, and written to lecture this country, in and of itself a pretty arrogant act--is how based in realpolitik it is.
But--and this is a very big but--I'm not sure that Russia is in any position to lecture anyone right now, given its long history of isolationism, paranoia, and curbs on basic freedoms inside its borders.
I think it will be interesting for all of us to save this article, and our posts, and see how they stack up against events as they unfold over the next 6 months. We will either be pleasantly surprised, or just surprised as how gullible we really were.
B Henly New York
Putin has consistently given the US sound advice, including on Afghanistan. I happen to believe he is also doing the Obama administration a favor by keeping Edward Snowden quietly in Russia, thereby avoiding the media circus and political distractions that would result from having him in jail on US soil. Having Putin in effect lecture us on our mistakes may stick in the craw of some Americans, but he happens to be right in this case, in spite of his own faults.
Dmitry Mikheyev Moscow, Russia
In full disclosure, I am Russian American, who has no reason to love the KGB and has all reasons to love America. I spent 6 years in GULAG and then was granted political asylum in America. But to me, this ’s stance on Syria makes more sense that anything else I heard from American political-military-industrial-media elite. I admit meeting very smart KGB guys even when they were interrogating me. Putin is obviously one of the most gifted and intelligent world leaders of our time. But of course great brain power can be very dangerous in the wrong hands, right? So what motives him?
Having lived in Moscow for 15 years I am confident that after decades of Communism Russia is obsessed with catching up with the West in technology and living standards. So Russia needs peaceful and stable international environment.
In contrast, the US is a crusading whose global ambition is to "civilize and modernize” the world according to its own image. Putin captured the fundamental paradox of American democracy: Can liberty, democracy and happiness be imposed on others by bombs and destruction?
America should help Russia facilitate solution to the Syrian crisis through negotiations and compromises. America has to learn to live with complexities of the real world. The black-and-white thinking leads to endless wars with others. Such policy will inevitably result in self-destruction.
Lynn Nadel Tucson
Its perhaps sad for us Americans when the President of Russia makes more sense than our own political class. He hit the nail directly on the head with his analysis of American exceptionalism. While not denying that the American idea, as embodied in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is exceptional, it is also the case that much has happened in the 200+ years since we started, and that as a country we are very far from the 'perfect union' envisioned. Our sense of exceptionalism, pandered to by all political parties, provides an excuse for meddling in other countries' affairs, and for refusing to look beyond our borders for good ideas about such things as health care, maternal leave policies, and more. If we were doing extremely well in these areas perhaps our exceptional claims would stand up, but who is willing to make that argument now.
Chances are the reaction to these words from President Putin will be ignored, or even outright rejected -- but I hope our own President Obama, whom I greatly admire, will use this opportunity to recalibrate how Americans see the world. We indeed are exceptional, but so are the Norwegians, and the French, and the Peruvians, and just about every culture that has carved out its own part of our universe. There is certainly evil in the world, but it cannot be the job of any one country to police the world, and to impose its ideas about how things should and should not be everywhere on this multi-cultural planet.
September1940 Stamford CT
I am shocked that, after reading President Putin's opinion, I feel that he is correct. The Russian President, an ex-KGB agent, a man who has led his county on some of their own missions of destruction, suddenly delivers a message which strikes a chord in me. Why, I wonder, am I reacting this way?
I think it is because, despite the hypocrisies in President Putin's writing, he makes sense - simple, common sense. He appears to cut through all the fog and word-spinning we are used to hearing from politicians - certainly from our own President - and gets to the kernel of the matter.
Force has, indeed, proven pointless. Where are we after the optimism of the so-called "Arab spring?" We still are confronting lunatic fringe elements who are propelling their societies into chaos, in the name of religion. We are constantly at war and finding it too easy to take international law into our own hands; acting unilaterally and, unfortunately, being perceived as the world's bully.
I pray that our President finds the same portion of common sense and manages to get himself under control - his bellicose and nonsensical speeches notwithstanding.
Thousands of people in Syria have been killed prior to the alleged chemical attack. Why did we/the world not respond to their deaths? A dead person is a dead person.
It doesn't matter who offers the olive branch or what it looks like - we must accept President Putin's well-reasoned approach to fending off a rush to military action.
George San Jose, CA
Mr Putin makes many points, some I disagree, some I agree. But all are perfectly valid concerns. I commend Mr Putin for contributing to the discussion.
Mr Putin's main concern is the issue of who's responsible for the recent chemical attack. Mr Obama admits the issue remains in dispute, but believes there is substantial evidence the Syrian government is responsible. Mr Putin believes it may in fact be the Rebels who are responsible. It would be hard to disagree that this is the key issue and deserves full "due process" resolution.
US constitutional law might offer some help here. It requires in a dispute such as this, where a crime may have been committed, for the accuser (Mr Obama in this case) to provide all evidence pertinent to the crime be made available to the accused (Mr Assad, presumably in this case represented by Mr Putin). "All evidence" , meaning that which supports the accuser's claims, and also that which supports the accused claims -- the so-called exculpatory evidence. Mr Obama should immediately provide this evidence to Mr Putin.
US law rules of evidence also require that testimony or claims be of first person origin. No third person testimony -- so-called "hearsay" evidence -- is allowed. Mr Obama should comply, and offer evidence only which can be supported by first person testimony. With names attached.
resident alien DC
Putin's comments about the danger of preaching American exceptionalism may have been irrelevant to the immediate issue but they are important. I was born in the UK. When I was young we Brits believed we were exceptional too, and most other nationalities were flawed (couldn't fight, couldn't produce etc). When kids grow up to believe through implication or actual teaching that they are superior to other peoples it affects how they view the world - after all military action against flawed nations does not matter so much. The fact the 4,000 Americans died in Iraq is apparently more important than the fact the 200,000 Iraqis died. It is fine for Obama to say that America is exceptional in the specific context of being the only country willing to take action to enforce international law and peace because that's true. But the US constitution states that we are born equal and that applies by the way to all people. To suggest that Americans are superior overall is dangerous because it leads to misjudgments such as underestimating the costs of war to the World. That is highly relevant to this issue.
Viktor Pittsfield, MA
As a person that spent 3/4 of my life in the USSR-Russia I have to tell that the history of that country and even its existing state do not make me optimistic in evaluating its actions and intentions. The Communist regime killed many millions of their own citizens, and Chechen war took about 100,000 lives- fully comparable with deaths in Syria.
But, unfortunately, Mr. Putin is right in one, the most important thing: the USA believes in its exceptional role and the force to instill it on the world. America has only 5% of total world population and cannot be a world gendarme forever. Worse, most of Americans, and even our government, do not understand deeply, or at all, national, religious, ethnic, historical and cultural specifics of other nations and tribes, so many of US international actions are useless or even counter-productive. That Russia also got defeated in Afghanistan is not a good solace to our situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I do not believe that any limited strike could change the Syria situation to better, rather opposite. So, we have to be more cautious here and, choosing our actions, work with our nations even we do not like them.
Quite possibly, Putin's intended audience is not the American people, but the citizens of the rest of the world. He wants to be their hero -- standing up to the US, pointing out our hypocrisy.
I don't trust Putin, but I think he is exploiting a weakness that the US needs to correct, namely, that we are far too mired in self-delusional, campaign-style spin -- even on the international stage, e.g. that we'd be welcomed as liberators in Iraq, that President Obama's Syria strategy was a high-level chess game and played out exactly the way he planned.
But foreign policy isn't like campaigning. We have to use logic and earned respect (gravitas) to persuade other countries to join with us on matters such as Syria. We have to marshal our knowledge of their particular cultures and political sensibilities. We can't just go around lecturing people about why don't they care more about the poor Syrian children.
The Times editorial department was approached Wednesday by an American public relations firm that represents Mr. Putin, offering the piece. Also on Wednesday, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, in the course of an interview about Syria, mentioned to The Times’s Moscow bureau chief Steven Lee Myers that an article was in the works.
Mr. Rosenthal agreed to review the article and quickly decided to publish it. It was posted on the Times Web site by Wednesday evening.
“I thought it was well-written, well-argued,” he said. “I don’t agree with many of the points in it, but that is irrelevant.”
“Syria is a huge story and Putin is a central figure in it,” giving the piece great news value, he said. It has created a major stir, including plenty of criticism. Richard Murphy of Fairfield, Conn., wrote to me Thursday with harsh words for The Times’s decision to publish it. He described himself as “horrified” and said that The Times was “aiding and abetting a long-term foe of the United States.”
Mr. Rosenthal rejects that argument.
“There is no ideological litmus test” for an Op-Ed article, he said. In addition, he said, it is not the purpose of the Op-Ed pages to help or hurt the American government. It is to present a variety of interesting and newsworthy points of view, at least some of which will be contrary to The Times’s own point of view, expressed in its editorials.
The Times has published very few Op-Ed pieces by heads of state, Mr. Rosenthal said, partly because they have their own ways of getting their messages out.
This was different, he said, because “everyone wants to hear from Putin right now” and this article was “fascinating and detailed,” providing new information.
I asked him about Mr. Putin’s statement that there is “every reason to believe” that the poison gas has been used by opposition forces, not the Syrian government – which many now do not believe to be true. Mr. Rosenthal said that “falls into the category of opinion.”
Mr. Rosenthal said there was no way of knowing whether Mr. Putin himself wrote the article – “with a public official you can never know,” because they tend to have staffers who write their speeches and other communications. But, he said, it needed virtually no editing and went through almost no changes. “It was an amazingly good translation,” he said.
The public relations firm that pitched the Putin article to The Times was Ketchum, as others, including Rosie Gray from BuzzFeed, reported Thursday. The relationship between Ketchum and Russia was explored by ProPublica, the investigative reporting organization, last year. In a recent ProPublica post, Justin Elliott summarizes the new developments and recaps what was reported earlier, including that Ketchum received $1.9 million from Russia in the first half of this year
The Washington Post’s foreign affairs blogger, Max Fisher, fact-checked and commented Thursday on the Putin Op-Ed, characterizing it as fascinating, but containing “undeniable hypocrisy and even moments of dishonesty.” Times readers would benefit from a similar examination. And a Guardian story reported that, according to his spokesman, Mr. Putin wrote most of the article himself with contributions from his staff.
Will St Paul, MN
I have no qualms about your publishing the letter. However, I am absolutely aghast that so many or your readers fail to comprehend the multiple layers of propaganda buried within it.
Putin is not a neutral player in the Syrian civil war -- the Russian government is operationalizing the Assad forces.
Putin's goal is to defend a strategic ally, and as the Balkans showed, Russian governments have a tradition of standing on shaky moral grounds to defend their few allies -- including trotting out the famous Russian belief in "non-interference."
Russia plays a hugely diminished role internationally, compared to the grand ideological struggles of the 20th Century that Putin references.
And the idea that Vladimir Putin is somehow the conscience of the world is so preposterous that my mind reels when I read comments about his "reasonable" and "moderate" approach to diplomacy.
How could so many of your readers be so deluded about Putin's motives?
Please, for the sake of journalistic balance and of educating your readership, provide some context here.
I would strongly surmise that one of the many reasons this country has so little respect in the world anymore is because of the attitude that this countries government and citizens are constantly shoving down everyone's throats; "It's our way or the highway!" "We are the greatest people in the history of the world." By implication, all that really means is everyone else in the world is inferior to us. "We are the greatest country in the world." Not any more we're not. We gave that up, if we ever had it at all when we started torturing people and water boarding them and throwing them in prison with no trails. Spying on and lying to the American public and to the rest of world doesn't exactly help that "great" image either.
We are not always right. Simple fact. We've lost the ability as a country to really help others, feel any compassion anymore, unless there is something in it for us. If we are so great and perfect, why do we have people in this country going to bed every night hungry?
We have become a country of haves and have not's. Rich against poor. We need to take a long hard look in the mirror and decide if what we are looking at is really that great anymore. I for one don't think so.
S Brooks Chicagoland Suburbs
I had to smile when noticing one of the reader comments that referenced the fact that president Putin held a key position with the KGB and implied that he could never be trusted. I guess the poster is too young to remember that George H Bush was the director of our very own CIA before being elected president of the United States.
Guilt by association is always a risky charge, but it does make for great talking points.
All this Putin bashing by readers of The New York Times is embarrassing. He's an ex-KBG agent, I'll give you that. He's against gay people and I'll give you that too, but for years this country was as well and there are many who still are.
We also must remember that Bush Sr. had been the head of the CIA, yet we trusted him, even as we went into Panama and slaughtered hundreds upon hundreds of women, children and babies ourselves, while being fed misleading information and lies about why we actually went in and then kept in the dark by the coverup that followed. Bush Jr. did the same in Iraq only this count was over a million of the innocent and Obama continues this tradition to this day in Somalia and Yemen with indiscriminate drone strikes. Most have no idea of this because it's conveniently never reported on. So to come out and make the argument about Putin being ex-KGB or the atrocities that are being committed by the Syrian government is ludicrous and shows that you haven't done your homework and therefore have no real understanding in regards to what our own country has become.We no longer stand for truth or justice and the American way has become a fallacy. We have become the evil doers. We have become a terrorist organization. Today, attempting to report the truth, journalists find themselves becoming enemies of the state or worse, the fear of government retaliation under what I refer to as The Micheal Hastings Act.
This country is not even close to being exceptional
Shark New York, NY
You do realize it is an opinion article right?