Yesterday evening, the New York Times ran an opinion piece penned by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Entitled “A Plea for Caution from Russia,” the column immediately went viral, (ironically) challenging the most e-mailed story “Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?” for the top spot.
Earlier today, Tablet obtained a copy of the initial draft of the Putin column. As Syria remains an immensely charged issue, we have chosen to reprint selections of it below in order to give a better sense of what Putin really intended to say. (Italics represent text that did not appear in the final draft.)
RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders through their unnecessarily permissive media. 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, (which isn’t over, by the way). But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together before Stalin purged the Jewish doctors. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation (except for the destruction of Grozny, which was justified) from ever happening again.
The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace (unlike Russian governance) should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Your fault. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades. You’re welcome.
No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, whose last significant act was to expel the Soviet Union for invading Finland. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization. Sending arms to Syria and Iran, of course, is fine.
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope (despite his recent troubling remarks on gay rights), will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders, which, despite two million refugees, hasn’t happened already anyway. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism like the gassing of civilians. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem (which I endorse) 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, like that time I said I wanted to hang the President of Georgia “by the balls” or unleashed a cyber-attack on Estonia.
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, which is a totally overrated anyway. There are few champions of democracy in Syria, and to those who remain: We’re coming for you!
No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria except my friend Bashar al-Assad. 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. See what I did there? Reports by the venerable state-run pro-Assad Iranian government organ PressTV that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored. Good thing we’ve sold more than $1.5 billion in armaments to Assad.
I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria so long as we keep our veto at the UN and Assad stays in power. We must work together to keep this dope 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 about how much time we give Assad to crush the rebellion.
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, which is why I wrestle tigers, fly-fish in the buff, and have a street named for me in a city I destroyed (Grozny) and a mountain named for me in Kyrgyzstan. There are big countries and small countries (which I eat for breakfast) rich and poor (especially with those kleptocracies out there), those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Like Moses, I’m for wandering a bit. 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 except for gays, chess champions, and journalists.