By Jill Dougherty
In an extraordinary direct appeal to Americans Vladimir Putin, in a New York Times op-ed, warned that military action in Syria would only “unleash a new wave of terrorism,” denied his country is trying to protect Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and depicted himself as an ally who wants to save the United States – from its own worst instincts.
“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,” Putin said. “ 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.”
The Russian president also denied the view that the uprising in Syria is part of a wave of popular movements in the Middle East demanding democracy from despotic rulers. “Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country,” he wrote. “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government.”
There is no doubt, he said, that poison gas was used in Syria but, he said, “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.”
"We have had preliminary conversations and the discussion has always been of Assad's weapons, weapons acknowledged by Assad regime itself," a senior U.S. official traveling aboard Secretary of State Kerry's plane to Geneva told CNN's Jim Sciutto.
Putin also took on critics who charge that Russia is defending the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.”
The Russian president took on U.S. foreign policy, saying it was “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,” he asked? “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.’
In spite of media reports that his relationship with President Barack Obama is worse than ever Putin said “My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust.”
But he took issue with Obama’s comments that America is “exceptional.”
“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation, Putin said. “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.”