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.


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

    Comment number 1085.

    The end

  • rate this

    Comment number 1084.


    "If only those Americans were as smart and wise as we Brits think of how much better off they and everyone else would be"

    If only!

    If they were then the US wouldn't now be arming Al Qaeda & other Islamists waging Jihad against Assad and the US would also be wise enough to understand that the continuing conflict in Syria is undoubtedly in the West's long-term strategic interests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1083.


    “being President of the United States is not only the most powerful job in the world, it's also the loneliest”

    Being a fact-free, ill-informed imbecile who is completely wrong (and the overwhelming majority of people in the US & rest of the world know to be wrong) will be very lonely as I am sure you know all too well.

    You will just have to stew in your impotent rage. Alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1082.


    “Isn't it frustrating all you out there who don't want this attack to happen?”

    Mere noise of defeat from those who know full well that there won’t be any attack because it is opposed by the overwhelming majority of people in the US. Obama can’t get it through Congress which is why he has leapt at this lifeline from Putin.

    Assad will continue killing Al Qaeda - fustrated?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1081.


    "So why did you bother commenting then?"

    Call it a Public Service to combat utter idiocy wherever in manifests itself

    You may want to parade your pathetic pig-ignorance in a vain attempt to divert from the more substantive issue - that Putin & Assad are acting in our direct national interests by murdering Islamists & other Jihadists but it won't work.

    I will make sure it won't work

  • rate this

    Comment number 1080.

    Great Britain had those sort of ideas in the Days of empire the US power is on the decline because you allow your companies to get away without paying tax to keep the people at each others throats like Britain still when China is the super power and you have to pay your debts back we can all wish for the old days again remembering how good things were. Syria isn't a necessary fight for the USA,

  • rate this

    Comment number 1079.

    Putin is just saving the US from the self-defeating stupidity of its so-called "leaders" & clueless political classes.

    Ongoing conflict in Syria is undoubtedly in the long term strategic interests of the West - region serves as human flypaper for Islamists everywhere who would otherwise be killing off duty soldiers & waging their jihad on our streets.

    Why ruin a very good thing?

    Carry on Assad!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1078.

    There is a saying, That a Country's Greatness is measured by the way its Government treats its peoples, US people are under suppression by its Government a coup d'état took place in the pentagon to the white house to senate, law enforcement is being militarised, freedoms restricted to a point, and all Americans are classed as terrorists, What the US does today the UK follow tomorrow, wait an see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1077.

    Rose-tinted glasses spring to mind. If Mr. Putin was so sincere why did they use their veto and/or convince Assad to go to the negotiating table months ago? Why aren't Russia donating much more to the human disaster which their so called 'conventional' weapons are being used against the Syrian people? Time for the UN to stop this stupidity of 'chemical weapons versus conventional weapons'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1076.

    The US and others say Can Russia be trusted? This is the wrong Question, the correct Question is Can Russia trust the US?
    Answer is a defiantly NO, The US are running Project Blue Beam for those who don't know check out this please,
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]
    The US want and are pushing for ww3, US nuclear cruse missiles
    have been sent to the Middle East on Obamas Orders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1075.

    Dictators love the lime-light even when they are in a a corner. This is especially true of Assad. Ruthless to the core, he rides rough-shod over his people not allowing them to express their basic freedoms. He has admitted he has a huge stock-pile of chemical weapons. Bravado is his game! By using chemical and conventional weapons he has killed countless men, women innocent children! Despicable!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1074.

    I think Brits live vicariously though America and Americans If only those Americans were as smart and wise as we Brits think of how much better off they and everyone else would be.And then there's the notion that because what started out as America was once part of Britain the US should be a British colony.Well t'aint so.If Americans thought like Brits there'd be no America to bail Britain out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1073.

    Obama: Rah Rah, we'll kick ass, real good!

    Putin: We put his weapons out of use by peaceful means.

    Obama: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh. OK

    Even though the USA is putting attack on hold, this is a PR disaster (yet another one in the Middle East) and will no doubt be more food to the minds of extremists.

    So another few decades of taking off your shoes and belts at the airport.

    Why doesn't the US get it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1072.

    They sold me the silly propaganda package that Obama was the smartest guy in the world but now he looks kind of stupid standing next to Putin.


  • rate this

    Comment number 1071.

    It is all too clear that Putin's letter has just upstaged anything the Obama team could generate. It also shows the clear direction Obama is faced with as his "Legacy" is in doubt and the military machine that is the Pentagon searches for its next conflict to justify its resources.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1070.

    I suppose we could ask why President Putin and his government didn't act to remove chemical weapons from Syria a year or so ago -- via a UN resolution or two perhaps.

    But otherwise, I found his remarks as credible as my own governments, and just as filled with "common sense."

    This whole affair has been filled with mind-boggling firsts. Amazing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1069.

    What is the European position, the great Union of 28, what does it say with one voice?Britain says squeak squeak we're out. Germany faggedabout it. Many others couldn't afford bullets let alone missiles. But then there are some people who feel entirely differently about it. I think Poles and Estonians are two who would march into hell if the President of the United States asked them to. He won't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1068.

    There is plenty of criticism of Russia & China for blocking UN resolutions but little mention (if any) is made of the USA continually blocking the enforcement of existing UN resolutions regarding Israel. Israel seems to be able to just ignore the UN with the certain knowledge that they have immunity because of US veto

  • rate this

    Comment number 1067.

    This could be the first pushbutton computerized war where the winning combatant never had a single soldier, sailor, airman, marine, or any other person in harms way. Not a single battle casualty. Unprecedented. Just like playing a computer game...for our side, the good guys in the white hats. The CW Syrial killers will know it's for real though when the bombs start landing.History in the making

  • rate this

    Comment number 1066.

    If the Chemical attack was cinfirmed nothing worst than that and it is right to take military action against Syria but not by US military strike, the action should take by UN or its Security Council. The UN is the most responsibility for that. In 2008 Obama said that he never at war with Islam but today the Noble peace winner's mind is already changed for the worst.


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