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Putin's message to America: You're not that special

Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he was worried about the "insufficient communication" between Russia and the United States, decided "to speak directly
Russia's President Vladimir Putin, June 18, 2013.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he was worried about the "insufficient communication" between Russia and the United States, decided "to speak directly to the American people."

In a new opinion piece for The New York Times, he made the case against military strikes in Syria, arguing that the potential conflict would "result in more innocent victims and escalation" and spread beyond Syria. The Russian leader tried to protect his ally (though he said he was motivated by respect for international law, not concern for Bashar al-Assad), by urging the U.S. not to bypass the United Nations Security Council.

"We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today's complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos," Putin wrote.

"The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression."

Putin characterized the conflict in Syria, a longtime client state, as "an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country."

The Russian president raised the specter of al Qaeda using Syria as a breeding ground for future terrorists.

"There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations."

Although the Assad government admitted this week that it has chemical weapons, Putin continues to insist that the August 21 chemical attack was the work of rebels, not Damascus.

"No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists."

Putin ends the op-ed with a critique of President Obama's national address from Tuesday night.

"My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States' policy is 'what makes America different. It's what makes us exceptional.' It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation," Putin says in the piece. "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."

A senior White House official responded to the op-ed by calling on the Russian leader to live up to his word: "President Putin has invested his credibility in transferring Assad's chemical weapons to international control, and ultimately destroying them. The world will note whether Russia can follow through on that commitment."