The battleground Syria has emerged as a gladiatorial amphitheatre to score points in global leadership, with Vladimir Putin offsetting Barack Obama as the quintessential peacenik. Not only has Putin been able to influence the world powers, at the recent G20 meet in St Petersburg, in scaling up the pressure against the United States’ unilateral urge to carry out a military strike in Syria, but also the Russian president has been able to turn the discourse on Syria around with his unique brand of charismatic authority. Putin’s successful attempt at pursuing the diplomatic channels for peaceful ends is bound to become a lesson in crisis aversion for posterity, as much as his persuasion of the Syrian regime to hand over its stockpile of chemical weapons for a Russia-led UN inspection would be seen as a remarkable victory for pacifism, and not for the alternative that espouses the ‘eye for eye, bullet for bullet’ theory. In fact, Vladimir Putin’s skills as a global negotiator have been firmly put on the table, and the US president now appears a paler shadow of himself when pitched against the Russian premier. Putin has not only warned against US military intervention in Syria, but has also called upon the American people, in an unusual, razor-sharp opinion piece on the US’ most prestigious newspaper The New York Times, that it’s in fact the American political leaders who ‘could increase (Middle Eastern) violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism,’ if they carry on with their policy of annexing sovereign countries under the garb of humanitarian intervention. Moreover, Putin’s direct address to the US citizens also underlined the fact that the Syrian crisis was not a battle for democracy but a civil war, ‘an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country,’ thus underscoring the possibility of the Syrian rebels having used the alleged chemical weapons near Damascus, only to destabilise the Assad regime by ‘provok[ing] intervention by their powerful foreign patrons’, even hurtling the world towards greater showdown between Iran and Israel.
Putin’s unique display of bold statesmanship firmly puts the case against US’ unilateralism, arguing that an American attack ‘could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and north Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.’ Never was this line of argument put forward with such eloquent directness, that too in America’s most famous broadsheet, under the name of a leader from a country that has always been a redoubtable and longstanding adversary of the US’ self-proclaimed exceptionalism. Furthermore, Putin’s advisory to not only the American citizens, but the world at large, also stressed on the specific Russian proposals to secure the handover of Syria’s chemical weapons before the key talks in Geneva, thus outlining a different approach to managing the so-called global crises that have been erupting in the wake of the Arab Spring’s excruciating winter since the coup in Egypt in July this year. However, if there’s a caveat in Putin’s firm display of diplomatic bravura, laced with his trademark machismo, it is that the address is equally a blow below the belt and showcasing of unimaginable political impudence. Peculiarly, Putin’s self-positioning as a champion of human rights and sovereignty of smaller nations comes across as bit stretched when his own records in ruthlessly quelling dissent and democracy within Russia are recalled. The violent repression of the Chechen uprising as well as his intervening in the internal affairs of Georgia and Moldovia also do not really turn him into a peacenik overnight, although his ‘give peace a chance’ rhetoric has been able to produce results as of now. Clearly, Putin has managed to kill two birds with one stone, to upstage Obama as the uncontested spokesperson for the world at large and to provide a substantial alternative to the US’ model of conducting foreign policy.