Dear Vladimir Putin, President of Russia,
First off, congratulations for being published by The New York Times. Writing a piece for the Times would be infinitely more honorable, in my opinion, than being president of Russia (or any country), but that’s just me. When the whole world-OK, the United States, Syria and those involved in the Syria debacle-is watching your every move, I guess writing an op-ed for a newspaper isn’t as exciting for someone as seemingly power-hungry as yourself.
That being said, I read your op-ed, published 11 September, entitled “A Plea For Caution from Russia.” I have a lot to say about it, some of it good, some of it bad (naturally). Before I start I would like to clarify that I know things have changed since the piece was published, namely that Russia and the United States have agreed that Syria must remove its chemical weapons by 2014. While I commend this agreement, it hardly solves the problem. It is September; 2013 is not over yet, and Bashar al-Assad thus has plenty of time to make use of his chemical weapons. The chemical weapons may have been the cherry on top of a devastating humanitarian crisis and the death of a country, but removing them isn’t going to help mitigate the larger problem.
Anyways, I’ll start with your keenly-chosen title: ‘A Plea for Caution from Russia?’ You are in no position of begging. Russia, or whatever incarnation that huge mass of land has gone through, I doubt has ever been in a position of pleading and begging (can someone fact-check this?) and I find this curious. I would imagine that my own United States of America would find itself on its knees in front of the international community before you [Russia] ever would. Trying to use the word ‘plea’ to seem less threatening when you are, well, threatening and are NOT in a prostrating position seems a bit overboard.
You say that we are “at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.” I think the communication is pretty clear. It actually usually is clear in international relationships; the problem is that no one likes what the other side is saying, and they have a hard time trying to sway opinion. That’s not insufficient communication; that’s poor debate skills.
You say that an American strike on Syria could “undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. ” Here, I would be inclined to agree with you, although I don’t understand what a civil war in Syria has to do with Iran’s nuclear development or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Syria does not touch borders with Israel/Palestine, nor with Iran. If we should all stick to our own countries and issues, which seems to be one of the roots of your discussion, than Israel and Iran should back down, too.
I would also be inclined to agree with you (!) regarding the possibility of mercenaries returning home from Syria “with experience acquired in Syria.” Some of the rebels are definitely al-Qaeda; many are fundamental Muslims and jihadists, so yes, it is worrisome that these people-who are willing to travel thousands of miles to a foreign country just to fight what I would argue is not a religious war (like you said)-will return to their countries of origin. But that is not related to whether the USA strikes Syria.
I found the following quote particularly controversial: “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.”
Yes, from the outset Russia has wanted “dialogue” because Russia has vested interests in Syria, a tiny Levantine country which bears little similarities to your country except that both are (you’re not going to like this) ruled by ruthless dictators. Whoever sits in the seat of power you want to court because Russia has its key Mediterranean naval base stationed in Tartous, which, as Le Monde wrote,”Les liens commerciaux ne sont pas négligeables non plus.” One cannot ignore this, nor can one ignore that you have been giving the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad military support. How does that constitute peaceful dialogue? How does that indicate neutrality? And since when do you care about international law, when your country stands as an impregnable fortress who is only bested by true pariahs Iran and North Korea?
(I do, however, wholeheartedly agree that the United Nations should be respected in some interest of international cooperation and that the Security Council should especially be honored. No country should step out of bounds of the Security Council unless it wants to be labeled “immoral and disruptive,” as my current school readings insist, and ostracized for disturbing the balances of power).
You argue that the rest of the world sees “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.” Well, a utopian paradise has not been created yet: it just so happens that, in most situations, one is either ‘with’ someone or ‘against’ their beliefs. And yes, we’re quite aware of what the world thinks of us–it’s just our politicians who don’t seem to care.
You go on to add that “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.” Putin, you had time to choose your words when writing this piece: how did you not realize how hypocritical you sound? What about the LGBT community in Russia that is being brutalized and mistreated as we speak? Or the protesters who dare fight your government? It is laughable for you to write this.
There is incredible irony, also, in your opinion that “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” Don’t all states, despite international cooperation, try to see themselves as exceptional? C’mon, we live in a world where everyone is extremely self-centered, taking selfies and believing themselves to be the star of their own universe. It would not be a stretch to say that this mentality has been absorbed on the national level.
The United States had no significant ties to Syria, nor does Syria have anything that our greedy politicians might want (like, ahem, major oil reserves). Russia does have stronger ties, but ultimately, it seems ludicrous that two of the worlds top superpowers are fighting over a tiny little country. I do not agree with how you treat your citizens or run Russia, but I will put that aside and say that, despite my snarky analysis, I do feel that there was much truth to your NYTimes op-ed. I will close out with your very parting words, which I admittedly found strange to use in this context but are nevertheless quite…dare I say…lovely?
“We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
From America with lots of diplomatic “cordiality,”
1. http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2013/08/29/la-diplomatie-poutine-ou-la-politique-du-pire_3467977_3232.html ecrit par Le Monde Edito, le 28 Aout 2013.
2. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss “A Plea for Caution from Russia” by Vladimir Putin, September 11, 2013
3. http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/09/vladimir-putin-action-man/100147/ “Vladimir Putin Action Man” September 13, 2011.