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
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT