Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an unusual direct appeal to American readers, lashed out Thursday against “alarming” military intervention and said it was “extremely dangerous” for the United States to see itself as an exceptional nation.
Putin wrote an op-ed for The New York Times titled “A Plea for Caution from Russia.” He warned that a military attack on Syria by the U.S. could unleash terrorism, increase violence and further destabilize the Middle East.
“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States,” Putin wrote. “Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it.”
He continued: “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.'”
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said the Obama administration was not surprised by Putin’s words and suggested the United States did not need to be lectured on human rights and democratic principles.
“The fact is that Russia offers a stark contrast that demonstrates why America is exceptional,” he said.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on NBC’s TODAY that Putin was trying to hurt American resolve.
“He was trying to, in his own way, weaken the United States and the effort to negotiate these issues,” Panetta said.
Putin said that Syrian rebels, not the government of Bashar Assad, had used poison gas. He said that the rebels were trying to provoke intervention by their “powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”
Of Russia’s support of Assad, Putin wrote that he favored a “peaceful dialogue” under the provisions of the United Nations Security Council.
“We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law,” he wrote, adding that any kind of military strike — even a limited one, as the Obama administration has argued for — would cause civilian casualties.
Force, he wrote, is allowed under U.N. rules only for self-defense or with the approval of the Security Council, and anything else constitutes aggression.
The Russian president listed countries in which the United States has intervened in the past — including Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq — and said that force had proved pointless there.
“In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes,” he wrote.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the op-ed carried “implicit threats” and described Putin as gloating.
“One gets the sense that the vodka and caviar are flowing rather heavily in the Kremlin these days,” he said on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe.”
In Syria’s case, Putin emphasized, the two-year conflict is not a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between the regime of Assad and an assortment of “enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government” with the assistance of foreign weapons.
Putin’s appeal, which went live online Wednesday night, came a day after Obama addressed the country in prime time, announcing that he would put off a military strike and work with Russia, China and American allies to get Syria to give up its chemical weapons.
Russia reshaped the Syria crisis by proposing two days ago that Syria could try to avoid an American attack by handing its chemical weapons over to international control.
But there are signs that Russia will complicate such a process. On Tuesday, Russia blocked a resolution crafted by the United States, France and Britain that would have called on Syria to turn over the weapons and threatened U.N. military enforcement.
Putin said he welcomed Obama's interest in continuing the dialogue on Russia's proposal -- but not before he cautioned against the case of American exceptionalism he said Obama made in his Tuesday speech.
“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,” he wrote.
A senior administration official said Putin needs to follow words with action.
“President Putin has invested his credibility in transferring Assad's chemical weapons to international control, and ultimately destroying them,” the official told NBC News.