Putin says US strike on Syria could escalate conflict

Russian president says move would unleash a new wave of terrorism

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin makes a statement on issues connected with chemical weapons in Syria at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. Photograph: Michael Klimentyev/RIA/Novosti/Reuters

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin makes a statement on issues connected with chemical weapons in Syria at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. Photograph: Michael Klimentyev/RIA/Novosti/Reuters


Russian president Vladimir Putin has made a direct plea to the American people and politicians not to take military action against Syria and sharply criticised US foreign policy in an opinion article in the New York Times.

Mr Putin, who has emerged as a peace-broker in the Syria crisis with its proposal to allow international observers seize the Assad regime’s chemical weapons, warned that a US military strike would “result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.”

As the US halts military action pending a UN resolution on the proposal, Putin devoted most of the opinion article to argue against America’s use of force.

In an extraordinary critique headlined ‘A Plea for Caution from Russia’, Mr Putin said it was “alarming” how common US military intervention in the internal conflicts of foreign countries has become, questioning whether this policy was in America’s long-term interest.

“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,” he said.

Referring to US involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, Mr Putin noted that the use of military force has proved “ineffective and pointless.”

He urged the US to “stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilised diplomatic and political settlement,” he wrote.

While welcoming Mr Obama’s interest in dialogue with Russia on Syria, Mr Putin challenged his statement in a televised address on Tuesday that his administration’s policy to act over Syria is what makes the US “exceptional”.

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,” he said.

“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,” he concluded.

The article was published ahead of the US secretary of state John Kerry meeting his Russia counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva today to discuss Moscow’s proposal for a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

A US strike against Syria’s government could undermine efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear proliferation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilise the Middle East and North Africa, he said.

Despite Russia blocking UN security council resolutions against Syria over the past two years, Putin urged that the security council be used to solve the crisis. The use of force outside of self-defence or without the consent of the security council would be “an act of aggression,” he said.

Mr Putin again claimed that the chemical weapons attack on August 21st on a suburb of Damascus was not the work of the Syrian army but rebel forces seeking to draw a foreign power into Syria’s civil war.

“No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria,” wrote the Russian leader. He added that reports that militants are “preparing another attack – this time against Israel – cannot be ignored.”

Saying his working and personal relationship with Mr Obama was “marked by growing trust”, the Russian leader said, “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 to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.”

Russia has been Dr Assad’s most powerful backer during the civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people since 2011, delivering arms and - with China - blocking three UN resolutions meant to pressure Dr Assad.

On Tuesday, Syria accepted the Russian proposal to surrender its chemical weapons to international control to try to win a possible reprieve from a US military strike.

US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by phone on Wednesday, the State Department said. They are due to meet today before they are due to meet in Geneva to try to agree on a strategy to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.