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.


More on This Story

Syria conflict


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  • Comment number 905.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 904.

    Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

    Groucho Marx

  • rate this

    Comment number 903.

    I and probably many others around the world almost hope Nibiru comes soon. Maybe God will be on Nibiru, maybe he will beam up decent law abiding people to save them before he unleashes a can of woop ass on everyone else left on this planet...

    Hmm, just pondering thoughts..

  • rate this

    Comment number 902.

    Never thought That Russia would turn out to be the good cop in this Syrian tragedy. They know how dangerous Islamic fundamentalists can be. Since this internal war in Syria started the media and our Government at the behest of America have wanted Assad out to be replaced by the rebels who are Al Quaeda. God help those poor Christians who lived quite happily under Assad's rule.

  • rate this

    Comment number 901.

    889 diy "the difference w Putin is he is really in charge"
    Yes, too bad our leader is weak&indecisive.

    "whereas there's so much power & influence behind the thrones of our democracies"

    As there should be in a democracy--w influence From the people. A leader should be able to discern btwn power of corps & the will of the people & when to say no, when to say yes.Or have his/her seat recalled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 900.

    US blames Russia and China to vetoe UN resolutions for military intervention in Syria.

    It is pretty interesting to see how USA, the beacon of "freedom" used its veto power in UN. I wonder if US governed by Americans or by jews ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 899.

    It's easy for us posting here to record our amusement at US discomfort over Syria, and to state our axiomatic objections to any western intervention in a foreign war. But it's worth reading our history books. Without the USA's intervention in a European 'foreign war' in 1941 it's certain that we in the UK would now be a vassal province of a brutal totalitarian empire, either German or Russian.

  • rate this

    Comment number 898.


    A single news agency may well say that they have sourced from several places but THEY have chosen which ones to use and which not. Now you say "Most other organisations" ..Name them ..Show that you have looked at a RANGE of news agencies from many different backgrounds. I suggest that if you do you will find the truth not just what YOU think is the truth

  • rate this

    Comment number 897.

    Well, I'd say it's about half-time now.

    I'd put the score at Putin 4, Obama nil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 896.

    892. Gryphon
    That link I gave was in fact Russia Today, funded by the federal budget of Russia. If anything they would be favourable towards Putin. Most other news organisations (I'm sure Reuters is included) from a range of backgrounds, report the same quote. Xinhua, the Chinese state media agency reports that Putin is supplying arms. Everyone agrees that Putin is sending arms to Russia.

  • Comment number 895.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 894.

    The Pope? That's your example.
    Becuase they have a great track record when it comes to backing the right side in conficts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 893.

    It is good to see that a decisive majority of people of planet earth as even evident on this forum are against American exceptionalism, war mongering, human blood drinking and supporting CIA babies (Alqaeda and Taliban)

    Mr Putin is certainly a very courageous leader to come out and call US what it is: An immoral psychopathic war-hungry imperial beast. Thank you very much Mr Putin for this. Peace.

  • Comment number 892.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 891.

    The Syrian problem is moving to a new uncharted water with religious conflict between Muslims & now involving Christians. This shows the difficulty of bringing peace to the region with military invovment as suggested by the West.

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    884. Gryphon
    Reuters is a global, impartial news organisation. Here's a video clip from their website of the news conference in which Putin said the words I quoted before (scroll to 35:00):

    I'm not talking about what Putin has done in the past, I'm talking about what he is doing now - stopping the US = right, supplying arms = wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 889.

    @886. "so many bad leaders around, even Vladimir Putin has a chance to look good". Yes, and bad governments - the difference with Putin is he is really in charge, whereas there's so much power and influence behind the thrones of our democracies...

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 887.

    @880 Agree - the real reason to lob tomahawks into Syria is to cause reprisals so we can go after Iran I fear. That's the real target. Saudis and Qatar are supplying rebels most because they fear they are next. They fear Iran too most of all. Zealots are fighting these wars to create theocracies based on sharia law. Israel has nukes - nobody attacks a state with nukes - right N Korea?

  • rate this

    Comment number 886.

    2013 and so many bad leaders around, even Vladimir Putin has a chance to look good.


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