A letter from Vladimir: ‘Putin’ the Syrian chemical weapons affaire in perspective

Forgive the pun in the title, you will see another one at the end of this post, it is a weakness of mine. On September 11—the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on America—the New York Times posted this remarkable letter from the Russian president Vladimir Putin. After reading it, I decided to wait a while and see how the situation would develop, in order to have a better context for giving an opinion. Now that the UN have released the results of their investigation, here it is.

In the letter Putin begins by stating that there is ‘insufficient communication’ between the American and Russian societies. I’m not really sure what he means by that: is he talking about cultural differences here? Are the phones out of order? A Russian friend of mine did tell me that it can take weeks for a letter to arrive in Russia, so maybe that’s what he’s driving at. Putin then continues by commenting that Russia and America used to be allies during the second world war, and that together they defeated the Nazis. So Putin wants to remind Americans that at one point Russians and Americans used to be comrades? Now my knowledge of historical facts may be limited, but I do recall that Germany first invaded Russia—I daresay a fellow like Stalin probably would’t have been very interested in defeating the Nazis, if they’d simply stayed out of his country. Just something to keep in mind before we start getting warm fuzzy feelings about such historical alliances. Because no sooner did WWII end or the Cold War began, starting with Stalin forming this extremely nasty business called the Eastern bloc. Was ‘insufficient communication’ to blame for that as well?

But all that is understandably left out of the letter of course. Instead, Putin starts talking about the United Nations charter that was drafted after the war, and the Russian veto power granted by it. He then continues to state how unfortunate it would be if the UN went the way of the League of Nations, which dissolved in 1946. That’s interesting, why would he mention this? Is Putin threatening to pull out of the UN if America decides to strike unilaterally? In the next section of the letter, Putin begins listing a few reasons why America should not attack Syria.

Putin writes that many countries are not in favor of a strike against Syria and mentions that such a strike is even opposed by the Pope. Now if you are going to use the Pope as an argument here, shouldn’t you first ask yourself if there is any war the Pope would condone? Certainly not the war on AIDS, for example. So who cares what the Pope thinks anyway. Besides that, many countries are also not opposed to a strike either, making this argument a bit weak.

Putin continues by warning that a strike could completely destabilize the whole middle-eastern region and lead to an increase in terrorist attacks. But then how stable is this region right now? Indeed, it would seem that the region is doing a pretty good job at destabilizing itself already! And even if Putin were right about this, then a strike might still very well put an end to any further indiscriminate gassing to death of innocent men, women and children. Now my morals may not be as lofty as the Pope’s, but an end to indiscriminate infanticide seems in my limited humanist perspective to be well worth a little destabilizing of a few middle-eastern countries.

Putin then says that the battle in Syria has nothing to do with a struggle for democracy, and furthermore that a few of the factions fighting on the side of the rebels have been labeled terrorist organizations by the American government. However, Putin fails to mention that the Hezbollah—another well known terrorist organization—has recently also joined the fight, but on the side of Assad’s regime. So as there are terrorists on both sides of this conflict, one terrorist organization or the other is going to come out on top whether America strikes or not, making this a rather moot point to make. Then Putin writes that the conflict is fueled by foreign nations supplying weapons to the rebels… Excuse me? This coming from the country that is a major supplier of advanced weapons to the Assad regime, and therefore to Hezbollah? Really?

Putin then goes on to write that extremist fighters who joined the rebels from other countries may go home traumatized after the fight and become a problem. Well, to that I would say that extremist who are fanatical enough that they would be prepared to travel abroad and fight some jihadist cause should already be considered potentially extremely dangerous. So this is not a particularly strong argument to make against a possible strike.

Putin also claims there is every reason to believe Syrian rebels gassed their own countrymen to death, thereby soliciting international intervention. This argument just makes no sense to me. But I understand that all scenarios must be considered, so for argument’s sake let’s assume the rebels did carry out the attack. What then to make of the Syrian government delaying UN inspection of the attack site? Why did the government pummel the area with heavy bombardments in the mean time, thus willfully destroying evidence? These hardly seem the actions of an innocent victim of some devious smear campaign, orchestrated by the rebels, determined to prove his innocence. Instead, it makes one look rather suspiciously guilty. In the mean time, Russia has simply rejected the UN report containing evidence that strongly implicates the Syrian government in the attack, instead claiming to have proof that the rebels were behind it all. And from what independent source did they get this proof? Don’t laugh: from the Syrian government—the very same government accused of perpetrating this war crime. And when you also consider that the UN report has been criticized by Russia for being incomplete and biased (of all things) it really becomes rather difficult to keep a straight face.

Putin then follows with more lessons from recent history: the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. He warns the US against interfering in the affairs of other countries and that getting involved in Iraq and Afghanistan was a bad move. Whether that is true in both cases is still a matter of debate and I would say it seems a bit premature to make that assessment right now. But of course going to war in Syria, or anywhere else for that matter, is hardly an enticing prospect. Does Putin seriously think the strike against Syria is a popular option in the White house? Indeed, the negative experiences with Iraq and Afghanistan are precisely why America is not anxious to get involved in yet another conflict. However, turning a blind eye to the mass gassing to death of civilian men, women and children is an even less acceptable course of action.

Putin keeps urging the Americans to choose a diplomatic solution in his letter, and now that the Syrian government has apparently agreed to destroy it’s arsenal of chemical weapons (in return for the USA and allies not shoving a missile up Assad’s ass), a more peaceful path out of this situation has presented itself. For now it seems the Americans are accepting this solution to the crisis, and hopefully it will prove to be a decision that minimizes the number of civilian casualties that still lie ahead in this tragic conflict.

Mr Putin closes his letter with some vague religious statement along the lines that we should remember we are all created equal by God. Interesting. I will leave the reader to consider the current appalling treatment of gays and lesbians in Russia, which was already generally scandalous, but has been significantly exacerbated by the recently enacted and highly controversial anti-homosexual legislation. And then judge for yourself how much stock you want to ‘Putin’ that statement.

 

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  1. Update, how’s this for irony. Moving on from the conflict in Syria to the conflict in Ukraine. Right now you can pretty much substitute Syria and rebels in the open letter that Putin sent with Ukraine and separatists, where appropriate, and then it would read like Putin was actually writing a letter criticizing his own actions. And I thought Boris Yeltsin was a funny guy! With laughable reasoning skills like this, it’s no wonder Putin fears the free press.

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