Russia's Syria moves about being important again
September 13th, 2013
12:23 AM ET

Russia's Syria moves about being important again

By Lucian Kim, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Lucian Kim is a journalist who was based in Russia for eight years. He blogs at The views expressed are his own.

Americans didn’t elect their president to be nice to Russia, just as Russians don’t expect their leader to dwell on foreigners’ sensibilities, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview last week. How surprising, then, that he would publish an op-ed in The New York Times yesterday, appealing to the American people to withhold support for a military intervention in Syria.

Putin makes a number of reasonable, legitimate points, many of which have been voiced by skeptics in the U.S. and Europe. The problem is that the arguments in the article would be credible if they were made by some authority other than Putin – say the king of Sweden or the secretary general of the United Nations.

Putin correctly identifies the risks of a strike, for example that Syria’s civil war is hardly a clear-cut battle for democracy but a messy sectarian conflict. He is right to ask whether past interventions against Iraq and Libya have not encouraged other rogue regimes to seek weapons of mass destruction as a guarantee against attack. And it’s true that U.S. unilateralism over the last decade has bred suspicion and resentment around the world, even among America’s closest allies.

The Russian president’s plea for caution is sober enough. Yet it is riddled with contradictions that reveal his disingenuousness when it comes to the well-being of Syrians, Americans or global diplomacy.

More from CNN: Putin's 6 key themes

“We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law,” Putin writes – a statement that flies in the face of the Kremlin’s unflagging support for Bashar al-Assad in the U.N. Security Council. Comfortable in the knowledge that the international community was divided, the Syrian leader ruthlessly cracked down on peaceful protests. Russian backing precluded a political solution from the start.

Putin’s sudden interest in “civilized diplomatic and political settlement” rings just as hollow, considering how Russia used overwhelming military force to redraw the borders of its southern neighbor Georgia in 2008. At the time, the Kremlin justified the war as a humanitarian intervention to stop a butcher – based on the precedents of Kosovo and Iraq.

Putin closes his article by taking President Obama to task for appealing to American exceptionalism in his address to the nation earlier this week. Coming from Putin, this complaint sounds almost comical.

More from CNN: Diplomatic win for Putin

The five-day Georgian War was the most blatant instance of Russian exceptionalism in recent years. And Putin’s highest foreign policy priority today is the creation of a “Eurasian Union,” an association of former Soviet republics with Russia as the first among equals.

Domestically, Putin likes to portray Russia as a unique state that belongs neither to Europe nor Asia – and therefore is free to develop its own style of government without having to ape western values or norms.

At the same time, Putin is obsessed with how the rest of the world views Russia now that the Soviet Union is gone forever.

Obama’s public agonizing over how to tackle Syria gave the Kremlin an opening to raise Russia’s stature as a peacemaker. On closer reading, Putin’s motivation to throw lifelines to Obama and al-Assad has less to do with U.S. unilateralism, international law or the fate of Syria.

It’s mostly about being important again.

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Topics: Russia • Syria

soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. Mandor

    Putin may be motivated for a desire to feel important.

    But if so, the man is in good(?) company. Most of my countrymen here in the good ol' USA have a deep rooted need to feel like our country is exceptional and indispensible and that if not for us the world would have gone to hell in a handbasket long ago.

    The problem is, most of them are comfortably sitting back on the laurels of what was achieved by earlier generations of americans... the ones who actually FOUGHT in WW2, the ones who actually WORKED to send a man to the moon, etc.

    The ones who watched the moon landing from TV as kids... the ones who always say "if not for us they'd be speaking German" when it was really their parents/grandparents who did the fighting and dying... have been on a steady diet of hubris for decades, and they have taught the same to far too many of my generation.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:24 am | Reply
  2. Jerry Okamura

    What leader in what country, does not want to feel important?

    September 14, 2013 at 11:56 am | Reply
  3. Terry

    And the arrogant, narcissistic, incompetent obama doesn't?

    September 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  4. karl from az

    Just like Comrade Obama!

    September 14, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  5. UriNation

    Putin is a thug.

    September 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  6. Stuart

    This is a foolish article. The arrogance of American news reporting saying Putin wants to feel important. Well first all world leaders including the Russian leader are important. That is their job and Putin did his job by presenting a solution to the Syrian dilemma. Don't criticize him but praise his solution. Americans need to realize that the world can resolve its problems without American interference.

    September 14, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  7. ug

    AAWW the libs are upset that Pukin didn't kiss the behind of ovomit and ended up kicking his sorry behind all over the wanted a weak you got is that hope and change doing you...

    September 14, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  8. Guest

    Lucian Kim is a famous Russia hater. He writes a special blog to convince the world Russia is so bad. This a just another piece...

    September 16, 2013 at 6:31 am | Reply
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