September 12, 2013, 08:00
Article by Russian President Vladimir Putin published in the US newspaper New York
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 UN’s founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and at
America’s insistence the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the UN Charter. The profound
wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.
No one wants the UN to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage.
This is possible if influential countries bypass the UN and take military action without Security Council
The planned strike by the US 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, 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
Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a
multi-confessional country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Al Qaeda
fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The U.S. State Department has designated the 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, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, fighting there
are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria, as happened
in Mali following events in Libya? This threatens us all, as the horrific attack in Boston recently showed.
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 UN 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 decision of the Security Council.
Anything else is unacceptable under the UN Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.
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
US. 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.”
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 US, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why it would want to repeat recent
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 non-proliferation, when in reality
this is being eroded.
We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilised diplomatic and political
A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The US, 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 US 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 at the G8 in Lough Erne, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.
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 September 10. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American
exceptionalism, stating that U.S. 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 us equal.