On September 12th, Russian President Vladimir Putin penned an op-ed in the New York Times titled “A Plea for Caution from Russia.” The full article can be found here:
This post is intended as a response to Mr. Putin’s op-ed.
Dear Mr. Putin:
On September 12th you reached out to the American people in a New York Times op-ed that appealed for cooperation between Russia and the United States over the crisis in Syria. You acknowledged that there is insufficient communication between Russian and American society, a truism reflected not just by the curiosity your article invited but also the multivariate platforms on which diplomacy has been conducted.
While your outreach provides an updated perspective on the Syrian conflict, I am afraid it does little to entice American sentiments toward long-term cooperation with Russia.
You write of a time when your nation and the United States worked together as allies against the Nazi threat, and how from that conflict the United Nations was established to ensure international stability and enshrine the concept of war and peace by consensus. Increasingly, Americans look to the United Nations as a potential arbiter of international dilemmas. Yet Russia has consistently dashed American hopes by standing against the consensus of the international community. Wielding the great responsibility of a UN Security Council veto, Russia has exercised its power to protect those who would violate the tenets of international law; far from its past stance of cooperating with the United States against abusers of human rights, Russia proves a great obstacle in the implementation of the “profound wisdom” of international relations.
Nevertheless, your opposition to an American strike on Syria has merit. Fortunately, the American system allows our president to appeal to Congress and citizens to determine U.S. actions. The resulting policy, then, is not the product of an aloof government but a very real nod to the unique capabilities of democracy in the United States.
In contrast, while many Americans share your opposition to the U.S. military intervention, they are likely surprised to hear talk against intervention coming from Russia. Your country’s war with Georgia is still fresh in national memory, and Russia’s explicit support for the Assad regime is seen as a major cause of continued hostilities in Syria.
This seeming duplicity is the primary reason why your op-ed is ineffective. Americans have become adept at detecting the difference between stated Russian aims and actions, especially over the last six months. Despite PR campaigns and statements of goodwill, Russia cannot impact U.S. opinion if Russian leaders continue to see words as disposable. Consequently, Americans have no choice but to accept the Russian proposal for a transfer of Syrian arms to the international community as tenuous at best.
But more than just responding to your article, I wish to inform you of one important aspect of American perception.
I am writing to you as a representative of a subset of the American population. I am not a diplomat nor a person of considerable authority—the people to whom I assume you address your remarks. As a college student, my conviction is derived from my fellow young Americans: individuals who are not yet in positions of power, but soon will be. Among us, Russia’s comportment represents a violation of trust and a breach of confidence. Idealistic as we are, we are unlikely to forget Russia’s role in the Syrian crisis. This, Mr. Putin, constitutes a great diplomatic failure for your nation. Soon, the next American generation will rise and retain a tarnished image of Russian interests abroad.
Soon, you will have to decide whether Russia’s role in Syria is worth the loss of any remaining credibility.