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
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
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
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
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
Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.
"An Attack on Syria Neither Lawful Nor Just," The Wisdom Fund, September 7, 2013