Sending mixed messages about the Syria crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that only military actions approved by the U.N. Security or in self-defense were valid under international law. Responding to growing prospects of U.S. air strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, Putin hinted that convincing evidence regarding al-Assad’s use of poison gas against civilians that killed over 1,400 civilians Aug. 21 “doesn’t exclude” supporting military force in a Security Council resolution. Closely allied with Syria, Putin has given al-Assad the benefit of the doubt, so far rejecting U.S. intelligence blaming al-Assad. Putin ignores the opinion of former Danish Prime Minister and current NATO Supreme Commander Anders Fogh Rasmussen who believes wholeheartedly that al-Assad approved the Sarin nerve gas attack on the East Damascus suburbs asphyxiating nearly 500 children.
Putin’s played the devil’s advocate asking the U.S. for more concrete proof that (a) Sarin nerve gas was used and (b) al-Assad ordered the attack. If Putin really wanted to stop a U.S. attack he’s order the Red Army into Syria, preempting any U.S. air strike. Putting Russian forces into harm’s way would make it next to impossible for the U.S. to intervene. Saving harsh words for Secretary of State John Kerry, Putin called the 69-year-old former U.S. senator from Massachusetts a “liar.” Putin apparently got his wires crossed watching the Sept. 3 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing translating from Russian to English. “He’s lying and he knows that he’s lying. This is sad,” said Putin, accusing Kerry of saying that the al-Nusra front wasn’t involved in the attempt to upend al-Assad. Putin doesn’t do nuance. Kerry never said al-Nusra was not working to topple al-Assad.
Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups accounted for about 15-20% of rebels fighting to topple al-Assad. Putin’s entire argument about supporting al-Assad in Syria stems from his belief that Syria will fall to radical Islam once al-Assad’s downfall. Kerry and his former Sen. colleague Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) firmly back Brig. Gen. Salim Idris’s Free Syrian Army that has strong ties to the U.S. Putin doesn’t want al-Assad to go primarily because he’s looses business contracts, but, more importantly, his Tartus navy base on the Syrian coast. Putin’s harsh words about Kerry reflect the current propaganda war where Putin gets his talking points from U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon. Moon insists that only the U.N. can authorize military force, knowing full-well that Putin would veto any Security Council resolution authorizing force.
Ban ki-Moon and Putin insist that only the U.N. Security Council can authorize the use of force, despite paralysis caused by veto power of each of the five permanent members. Ban and Putin know that the chemical weapons ban went into effect at the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning the use of the same poison gas used in the trench warfare in WW I. When the more comprehensive Chemical Weapons Ban went into effect Jan 13, 1993, Syria was among the hand full of states refusing to sign, including Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan. Russia knows as a voting member of the U.N. Security Council they must vote against their friends when they violate international rules. Putin’s refusal to sign onto a Security Council use of force resolution has to do with pre-existing business relationships with al-Assad. Based on today’s best evidence, Putin is obligated to vote objectively.
If the Security Council can’t operate to enforce longstanding treaties and chemical weapons bans, then the U.S. Congress has no choice but to takeover by default. Putting business relationships over a solemn duty to enforce treaties and protect member states, Putin places his own interests over his duty to act responsibly on the Security Council. “If there’s evidence that chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the U.N. Security Council,” said Putin, asking the U.S. for more proof. Despite multiple reliable sources, this not the wild speculation before the Iraq War, where the U.S. presented its best evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Putin acts like the U.S. is the only country marshalling evidence against Syria only for the purpose of creating an excuse for military strikes.
Putin wants to reject all the shroud-wrapped bodies of men, women and children gassed to death by al-Assad Aug. 21, confirmed by Paris-based Doctors Without Borders. Watching Putin play al-Assad apologist, challenging the U.S. and international community to give him proof, yet accepting al-Assad’s excuse blaming Israel or some other nefarious entity reveals the true nature of Putin’s Russia. Abusing his veto power and making a mockery in the U.N. Security Council, Putin shows blind loyalty to his business partnership with al-Assad, ignoring the obvious breach of his U.N,-member status using poison gas. While Putin looks for proof, al-Assad thinks blaming Israel will play well on the Arab Street and get him off the hook. When Obama gets the green light from Congress to give al-Assad what he deserves, Putin will whine that his Security Council veto didn’t work.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.