Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Putin a hypocrite with blood on his hands

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
September 12, 2013 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: In op-ed, Putin poses as champion of peace and chastises U.S. on Syria
  • On contrary, Russia sold arms to al-Assad regime, which has killed tens of thousands, she says
  • She says he touts diplomacy, yet Russia, China subverted peace efforts on U.N. Security Council
  • Ghitis: Putin wants to raise stock (not peace) in world and keep Russian foothold in Mideast

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis.

(CNN) -- There he goes again -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, portraying himself as the world's champion of peace and democracy. And, of course, doing it at America's expense.

This time, Putin's PR machine managed to get him an op-ed in The New York Times, just in time for the start of talks in Geneva, Switzerland, over a plan to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. The column is so filled with hypocrisy, inaccuracies and even veiled threats that it's hard to know where to begin.

Putin chastises the United States, which has stumbled badly in Syria, for considering an attack because a strike "will result in more innocent victims and escalation." It could, he warns, "unleash a new wave of terrorism." He forgets to mention that tens of thousands of innocent victims in Syria have already died at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad's forces, which are armed, supported and supplied by Moscow.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

Here's just one recent arms order from a Syrian army general, listing 20,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 20 million rounds of ammunition, sniper rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers and more.

When it comes to massacres of civilians, it is the Russian (and Iranian)-armed Syrian government and its allies who have done most of the killing. Some of the rebels also have blood on their hands, clearly a reason for concern. But Putin's one-sided portrayal is false. A report by a U.N. commission released Wednesday showed eight massacres committed by al-Assad supporters and one by rebels over the last year and a half.

Putin has provided al-Assad with weapons, planeloads of cash and diplomatic cover to carry out his assaults against an uprising that started peacefully and was forced into violence by al-Assad's uncompromising response. And yet in his op-ed Putin cynically describes the Syrian war as conflict "fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition."

The Russian president tries to come across as the great defender of international institutions, peace through compromise and global consensus. "No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations," he warns, which would happen if the United States chooses to bypass the U.N. Security Council.

World reaction mixed on Putin column
Can Putin be trusted?
Putin's call for peace

The truth, whatever Putin claims, is that the United States and other countries have tried desperately to go through the Security Council to stop the carnage in Syria. No country has obstructed those efforts more persistently than Russia. Early last year, when al-Assad's forces carried out what was until then the worst massacre of the war, in the city of Homs, the United States, France, Britain -- in fact, 13 out of the Security Council's 15 members -- voted in favor of a resolution backing an Arab peace plan for Syria. Russia and China vetoed it.

Experts then said the outcome would be a "license (for al-Assad) to do more of the same and worse," predicting the Syrian leader would become even more brutal in his tactics, exactly as he has.

Russia has obstructed even the most watered-down efforts to send a message from the international community, vetoing three separate resolutions. It's no wonder Samantha Power, America's ambassador to the United Nations, said Russia has held the Security Council "hostage."

In his column, Putin disingenuously claims "there is every reason to believe" the rebels launched the August 21 chemical attack that killed hundreds of Syrian civilians. Precisely the opposite is true.

Analyses from the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Human Rights Watch and others have concluded that it was the regime that perpetrated that gross violation of international norms -- the norms that Putin now claims to embrace with such fervor.

A U.N. inspection team investigated the massacre in Syria but was not tasked with assigning blame. Still, leaked information says its report next week will show "a wealth of evidence" pointing strongly to the Syrian regime as perpetrator of the attack, even if that doesn't fit neatly with Putin's reality distortion objectives.

Nothing could be more deliciously absurd than Putin accusing America of not being a "model of democracy," except perhaps for his closing line in which he chastises President Barack Obama for speaking of American exceptionalism. Obama shouldn't have said that, Putin humbly explains, because "We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

Right. All equal. That coming from the man who has presided over the introduction of law after law turning gays and lesbians into second-class citizens in Russia, with the latest allowing police to arrest anyone suspected of being "pro-gay."

Putin would do well to avoid the topic of democracy and human rights altogether. Just ask the nonpartisan Freedom House what has happened to the country since Putin came to dominate the political scene more than a decade ago.

Incidentally, Putin rose to power by cracking down violently against Chechnya. Here's an op-ed he published in The New York Times in 1999 explaining why force was needed against brutality.

In this latest newspaper column, Putin extends to the United States his image-building campaign from Russia, where he has appeared hunting tigers in Siberia. In Russia he is the hyper-macho president. In America and in the rest of the world, he wants the public to see him as the indispensable foil to an out-of-control America.

Putin wants to raise not only his own but also Russia's profile and prestige. It's not so much that he dislikes American exceptionalism. He wants Russia to share in the limelight and in the power. The former KGB man is trying to maximize the influence of a country that once shared the title of superpower only with the United States.

To do that, he wants to save al-Assad, the man who holds the key to Russia's foothold in the Arab Middle East.

No, Putin's actions are not driven by a passion for peace and democracy. They are an example of cold calculation -- a quest for power and a bold display of hypocrisy.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT