Syria crisis: Russia's Putin issues plea to US over Syria

 

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen reports from the town of Maaloula

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a direct personal appeal to the American people over the Syrian crisis.

He wrote in the New York Times that a US military strike against Syria could unleash a new wave of terrorism.

The US had threatened strikes, accusing the Syrian regime of killing hundreds in a poison-gas attack on 21 August.

Instead, Russia, an ally of Damascus, proposed that Syria hand over its chemical arsenal. The US and Russia are due to meet later to discuss that plan.

The Syrian government, which denies that it has used chemical weapons on its own people, has agreed at least partially to the Russian proposal.

Analysis

The American people are used to being addressed by an American President. Not a Russian one.

But Vladimir Putin knows that the US public and politicians are deeply uneasy with the prospect of American military intervention in Syria. His opinion piece in the New York Times may be an attempt to exploit and maintain that scepticism.

Most of the arguments he makes in the piece he has made before: for example, that a US strike would spark more violence and widen the conflict. But the Kremlin may be hoping this direct appeal to the American people, coupled with Moscow's diplomatic initiative, will boost the international image of Russia and its president. However, it may take more than one op-ed piece to do that. After all, in the West, President Putin is widely seen as an authoritarian leader intolerant of dissent back home.

The diplomatic moves prompted US President Barack Obama to put military action against Syria on hold.

In his New York Times article, Mr Putin said recent events had prompted him to "speak directly to the American people and their political leaders".

He warned that the UN could suffer the same fate as its predecessor, the League of Nations, if "influential countries... take military action without Security Council authorisation".

"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," he wrote.

"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 probably carried out by opposition forces "to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons".

US Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to meet Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva later to discuss Moscow's proposal.

BBC News asked people in the Middle East to share their views on a possible military strike against Syria

Mr Lavrov told a news conference in Kazakhstan that both sides were bringing teams of specialists and experts to the meeting to thrash out the technical details of the plan.

Chemical weapons plan timeline

5-6 Sep: Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama discuss idea of placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control on sidelines of G20 summit

9 Sep: Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says he has urged Syria to hand in chemical weapons and have them destroyed; Syria welcomes plan

10 Sep: Syria's foreign minister makes first public admission of the regime's chemical weapons stockpile; commits Syria committed to Russian plan. Barack Obama postpones Congress vote on military action and says he will give Russian plan a chance

12 Sep: John Kerry due to meet Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva

He outlined three main phases of the proposal:

  • Syria joins the Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws the production and use of the weapons
  • Syria reveals where its chemical weapons are stored and gives details of its programme
  • Experts decide on the specific measures to be taken

Mr Lavrov did not mention the destruction of the weapons, which is thought to be a sticking point in Moscow's negotiations with Damascus.

Gen Salim Idriss of the rebel Free Syrian Army has dismissed the Russian plan, saying it did not go far enough.

"[We] request not only that the chemical arsenal is put under international control, but [also] to judge the author of the crime before the International Criminal Court," he said.

On Wednesday, envoys of the five permanent UN Security Council members met in New York to discuss the plan.

One diplomat told the BBC that the UN envoys' talks were largely symbolic and that the serious questions would be left for Geneva.

Maaloula (7 September 2013) Maaloula is one of the earliest centres of Christianity in the world.
Online video showing rebel fighter in Maaloula (4 September 2013) The town was overrun last week by rebel forces led by the al-Nusra Front, which is linked to al-Qaeda.
An online video from a rebel group shows smoke rising from the St Sarkis monastery after shelling (6 September 2013) Government troops were forced to withdraw to the outskirts of the town. In one online video, smoke was seen rising from the St Sarkis monastery
Pro-government fighters in Maaloula After days of fighting, reports said the government had retaken the town. The BBC's Jeremy Bowen, who visited Maaloula, saw pro-government militia on the streets.
Government militia in Maaloula However, our correspondent said fighting was still going on around the town.
Church in Maaloula (7 September 2013) In normal times, Maaloula has been a magnet for tourists, drawn by its ancient monasteries and hermits' caves, and the fact that its people still speak Aramaic.
Entrance to Maaloula (7 September 2013) Now, there are fears for that heritage, with reports that militant Islamist rebels have attacked religious buildings and statues.
Soldiers outside Maaloula (7 September 2013) But opposition leaders have blamed pro-regime militias for that, accusing the government of terrorising minorities while trying to pose as their protectors.
People carry the coffins of three Maaloula residents through the streets of Damascus (10 September 2013) On Tuesday, hundreds of Christians attended funerals in the capital's Damascus for three Maaloula residents killed in the fighting.
A woman weeps at the funerals for three Maaloula residents in Damascus (10 September 2013) "Maaloula is the wound of Christ," mourners chanted as they marched through the narrow streets of the Old City's Christian quarter.

Republican Senator John McCain, who has long argued for US intervention in Syria, said he was "puzzled" why Mr Kerry was meeting Mr Lavrov in Geneva.

Start Quote

If we are to be afraid, then believe me, our fears are 10% from the Western intervention, and for sure 90% from the regime”

End Quote

"Why doesn't Lavrov come to the UN and everybody agree on a resolution and pass it? It's got to be a resolution through the Security Council," he said.

Diplomats predict that talks at the UN Security Council will continue for several days after the Geneva meeting before any resolution can be put to a vote.

France has already been working on a draft resolution that would be enforced by Chapter VII of the UN charter, which would in effect sanction the use of force if Syria failed in its obligations.

However, Russia has already indicated that this would be unacceptable, as would any resolution blaming the Syrian government for chemical attacks. Russia, supported by China, has blocked three draft resolutions condemning the Assad government.

More than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.

Nick Bryant explains how the UN Security Council works and how likely it is to agree a Syria resolution

As the diplomatic efforts continue, the Syrian army has been trying to retake the Christian town of Maaloula, which was overrun at the weekend by rebel forces, including members of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen, who visited Maaloula on Wednesday, says fighting has been continuing despite earlier reports that government forces had retaken the town.

Meanwhile, video footage has emerged on the internet appearing to show Farsi-speaking men fighting in the northern city of Aleppo. Iran has long been accused of helping Syrian government forces.

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 942.

    Putin's 'open letter' weas intended for international consumption as much as for the people of the U.

    Its an oppurtunistic attempt to reposition Russia as a humane empathethic world power.

    Unfortantely, if look at the multiple misfortunes/tragedies that have befallen Putin's political oppnents during his career, its pretty clear what he actual thinks about basisc human rights.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 938.

    We may not always agree with our leaders in the west but that is democracy and I'd rather live in a democracy as opposed to a communist country or a dark age inhumane theocracy any day.

    The west is not perfect but it is pretty good & our leaders & governments also do a lot of good. We must remain united & realise that just because we don't always rush into every war does not mean weakness.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 888.

    Just been watching Jeremy Bowen report. If the US does launch Air Strikes against the Regime why not also against the Al Queada Rebels, There even more dangerous that Assad , after all he doesn't threaten us. They do.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 836.

    Agree with comments of Putin. Russia and China warned us not to go into Iraq. That ego trip took many lives and money we don't have. Our gov will be facing money issues again soon. Lobbing several tomahawks at targets isn't going to make any difference but replacing them will cost money. Why be the terrorist airforce? Look at Iraq & Afghanistan and all the good we've done there (sarcasm)

  • rate this
    +59

    Comment number 147.

    I never thought I’d see Putin sounding so sensible and looking so diplomatic. He really is coming across as the rational one here, making Obama look like one of the hot heads who needs to be mollified. The point being that getting Syria to give up their chemical weapons is a better outcome than launching a load of missiles into Damascus. Well played Putin.

 

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