Russian President Vladimir Putin took an unprecedented step on Thursday when he made an direct, personal appeal to the American people over the Syrian conflict.
Contributing an op-ed piece to the New York Times, Putin warned the already sceptical US that launching a military strike against Syria could unleash a new wave of terrorism.
"The potential strike by the United States 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, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders," Putin wrote, warning of a potential regional backlash to the conflict.
The United States, led by the Obama administration, has threatened to "punish" the Syrian regime through a strike-campaign, accusing it of killing hundreds of citizens in a chemical weapons attack on 21 August.
Russia, Damascus' foremost ally, proposed that Syria hands over its chemical weapons stockpiles in order to avoid a military attack.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in Geneva later on Thursday to discuss the proposal.
The Syrian regime, which is headed by President Bashar Assad, denies that it has used chemical weapons against its own people but has agreed, at least partially, to Moscow's proposal.
The flurry of diplomacy that followed Moscow putting its plan to Damascus have prompted US President Barack Obama to put any US-led military action against Syria on hold.
In his article for the New York Times, Putin said recent events had driven him to "speak directly to the American people and their political leaders".
He warned that the United Nations could suffer the same feat as its inept predecessor, the League of Nations, if "influential countries... take military action without Security Council authorisation".
Implicitly responding to US claims that Russia is holding the UN "hostage" with its veto power, Putin wrote: "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. 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 the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression".
"A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism."
He reiterated Russia's opinion that the gas attack of 21 August was most likely perpetrated by Syrian rebel forces. "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."
Perhaps trying to compound his point, Putin also mentioned the threat that a strike on Syria might pose to Israel, America's greatest ally in the region.
"Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored", Putin wrote, failing to mention that those allegedly preparing for a retaliatory strike on Israel are Assad's allies, such as Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
Obama and Putin's relationship has been the frostiest between any two US and Russian presidents since the end of the Cold War. Amidst media reports that communication between the two countries was strained, Putin wrote: "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 Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ 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".
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