Putin has claimed the moral high ground

Last Thursday provided us with an amazing journalistic moment.

The New York Times, one of the most respected and trusted publications in the US, recently published an op-ed written by none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin on the dangers on Syrian intervention.

What is most surprising is that the piece struck a chord with the American public in a way which American leaders have struggled to do over the past few weeks on Syria.

Putin’s letter was an emotional plea to sense, and while it certainly is not easy to trust the word and convictions of a man who has been The West’s staunchest opponent in recent years, it is a tone he seems to have managed to put into words what many in America are thinking in regards to Syria.

Putin starts: “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.”

It is an emotional appeal to Americans to recognise that relations between Russia and America have changed over time, this is not the Cold War anymore a hostile stance will not benefit anyone.

He also invokes the United Nations; a body which America helped found and has been ignored by previous administrations as they took military action abroad.

Putin goes on to warn that if the US continues to bypass the UN than the organisation risks suffering the same fate as the League of Nations.

However the most striking part of the op-ed is Putin’s plea to common sense.

The Russian president says: “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.”

Even if we look past the platitudes here and say that Putin is being cynical, attempting to use the potential threat of terrorist attacks as a  deterrent to US aggression (particularly notable as the piece was published on September the 11th), it does not escape the fact that everything he is saying is true.

A strike against Syria would destabilise the region, it would potentially cause there to be aggression against Israel in response, but perhaps most notable of all it would be strengthening the  Al-Qaeda backed forces that are currently attacking the Syrian regime.

Even the Pope is on his side.

Putin makes another salient point in the fact that despite popular misconception in the West Syria is not a democratic battle.

“Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious 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.”

Putin’s appeals to America are unique and represent a change in approach from aggression to reasoning.

It is an appeal to the neo-conservative elements that still seem to reside at the heart of US government, an appeal to those that believe democracy can just be exported as if it were a brand.

In this most open and engaging letter to a people that deeply mistrust him the Russian President has put his cards on the table.

He does not warn of repercussions against America by Russia, or of resistance but simply asks will this strike really help or will it just make things worse.

The majority of people in America do not want war with Syria; they see that this case is not simply black and white.

There has been some talk in the US media this week of America needing to save face and not allowing Russia to dictate global action, an argument that seems to revolve around the sentiment that the President of the United States is the leader of the Free World not the President of Russia.

But America cannot put the lives of its serviceman and countless Syrians at risk just to save face.

Even as America positions itself as the world’s policeman, Russia (and I can’t believe it’s got to a stage where I am actually writing this) is positioning itself as its conscience.

To sign off I will leave you with Putin’s own words on the dangers of American exceptionalism.

“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.”

This is a striking and uncharacteristic tone from Vladimir Putin but nonetheless his words are very powerful.

Samuel Kerr


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