Conflict & Justice

Putin likes it both ways


Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 12, 2013.


Maxim Shemetov

Vladimir Putin's op-ed in The New York Times Wednesday wasn't bad. It was a well-written and well-argued piece against the use of force in Syria.

It was also a very different op-ed from the one he wrote for the Times back in 1999, which argued for military action in Chechnya. His reasons for "Why We Must Act" have become his "Plea for Caution."

Same guy. Really different op-ed. 

Admittedly, the situations are not the same. Syria is experiencing a civil war, which the use of chemical weapons has thrust onto the global stage.

In the case of Chechnya, Russia was trying to reclaim the renegade republic after Chechen separatists were blamed for a series of apartment bombings across Russia. 

Putin, in his 1999 op-ed, said Russia was forced to intervene in Chechnya, reluctantly, as part of an "antiterrorist campaign" that was necessary to protect its citizens.

Our immediate aim is to rid Chechnya of those who threaten the safety of Chechens and Russians. We also seek to restore civil society to the Chechen people, who have been victims of deprivation, living in the grip of armed criminal gangs for years.

This is the same Putin who wrote Thursday, in an op-ed placed by PR firm Ketchum, that not only would a strike against Syria "increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism," but:

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.

In both instances, his concern over Islamic terrorism remains consistent, if his tactic for curbing it differs. It stands to reason that Russia would seek to promote regional stability in whatever way it could. 

But that fact points to the real reasons underpinning Putin's op-ed this week. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime is an ally to Putin's, and a faithful arms customer. The Syrian city of Tartus is also home to a strategically important air base for Russia.

So, he has his reasons for opposing military action in Syria. They're just not the ones he's stating as such.