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Putin asks Americans to be ‘cautious’ on Syria
September 12, 2013, 4:47 am

Putin, left, met with Obama at the G20 last week, and says trust between them is "growing" [AP]

Putin, left, met with Obama at the G20 last week, and says trust between them is “growing” [AP]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged in a New York Times editorial addressed to the American people that Sarin gas was used in an attack near Damascus two weeks ago, but added that he firmly believes it was launched by rebels fighting the government.

His cautionary oped asks Americans to weigh the consequences of a military strike on Syria.

In Thursday’s edition of the newspaper, Putin 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.”

The Russian president outlined the history of Moscow and Washington working as allies to defeat the Nazis in Europe to emphasise that solutions could only come through consensus among governments in the United Nations.

“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 authorisation,” he wrote.

Putin also said that the war in Syria was not over democracy, but a conflict between the government and extremists, foreign mercenaries and Al-Qaeda forces from Iraq.

He also reiterated the Russian Foreign Ministry’s warning about the inaccuracies regarding the reasons for invading Iraq and how the country unraveled in a near civil war.

“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,” he said.

Putin also touched on his relationship with US President Barack Obama by saying it is marked by growing trust.

But he said he would rather disagree with a case Obama made on American exceptionalism during his presidential address on Tuesday.

“[Obama is] 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,” Putin cautioned in the New York Times piece.

Mark Sleboda, a senior lecturer and researcher of international relations and security at Moscow State University, says Putin’s editorial shows that the Russian government is paying close attention to and is deeply concerned with the political debate over Syria in the US.

“It also shows that the Russian government, contrary to how it is often portrayed by the Western press and commentariat, is not harking back to the Cold War and being deliberately confrontational and obstructive to the US, but is instead desperately trying to reach out to and engage diplomatically and constructively on this and a whole range of issues,” he told The BRICS Post.

Sleboda believes that the Russian president – perhaps, more importantly – is making an urgent appeal about the danger a strike on Syria presents to the already wounded and fragile institutions of the United Nations and international law.

“A ‘red line’ against this militarist and triumphalist postmodern Western ‘humanitarian’ imperialism, the Unipolar moment that has characterized international relations since 1992, is finally being drawn. If it is crossed it is hard to see how the whole edifice of international law, the UN Charter, and the world order in place since World War II cannot but come crashing down,” Sleboda added.

Putin’s editorial came hours before a scheduled meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Geneva to discuss Moscow’s proposal to bring Syria’s chemical weapons under international supervision.