At the 10th-anniversary meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin lapped up praise for his recent New York Times op-ed on the Syria crisis and his "achievement" of averting a U.S. military strike.
Putin addressed a wide array of topics in a speech and a panel discussion at the first Valdai meeting to be televised in its history, from Russia's political system to his future political plans to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's legal problems.
The Valdai Club traditionally holds a closed annual dinner with Putin attended by prominent Western journalists and pundits, acting as a forum for Russia's leader to share his views on the issues of the day.
At Thursday's public event, after speaking about the necessity for pluralism in Russia and in global affairs in general, Putin took questions from members of the audience, which included foreign officials, journalists and intellectuals as well as opposition politicians such as Lev Ponomaryov and Gennady Gudkov.
The first question concerned Putin's recent opinion article in The New York Times, which made waves both in Russia and the U.S. for what some saw as its holier-than-thou criticism of the U.S. government and what others saw as words of wisdom regarding the dangers of a foreign military strike in Syria.
But the article was almost universally seen as a major image boost for Putin. One Valdai audience member echoed that view, saying that with the article Putin had "personally blocked the exacerbation of the Syria crisis."
"But whose idea was it?" the person asked. "[Defense Minister Sergei] Shoigu's? [Putin spokesman Dmitry] Peskov's? And when was the first time you talked about all of this with Obama?"
The idea, Putin said, was his own, and it occurred to him by chance after noticing that Obama had shifted the discussion of a possible strike on Syria to Congress.
"I just wanted to let those, the decision makers, know my own position, to clarify it for them, because unfortunately the mass media often presents certain issues in a distorted way or is completely silent about things … so the idea was mine," Putin said, adding that he personally edited the article and added ideas that he felt were important after it was first drafted by assistants.
The most contentious part of the article — a warning against promoting the idea of American exceptionalism — was inspired by something said by U.S. President Barack Obama in a speech to the American public, Putin said.
But while the article has widely been seen as a major PR win for Putin, it also made him "hostage to the arrangement," the audience member said, because if the Syria deal fails, Russia may have to answer for it.
Putin took the question in his stride, conceding that "there is no 100 percent guarantee that we will be able to complete the process as planned," but adding that "what we have seen recently gives us hope that it will be successful."
Russia has largely been hailed as a peace broker in the Syrian conflict, which kept international tensions at a fever pitch for weeks as the U.S. threatened a military strike in response to what it said was a gas attack on civilians carried out by the Syrian government on Aug. 21. Russia repeatedly cautioned against intervention and maintained that Syrian rebels may have been behind the attack.
The landmark deal concluded by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva last week, under which Syria must surrender all of its chemical stockpiles by mid-2014 and join the international Chemical Weapons Convention, has been praised as a diplomatic victory for Russia...
Much more at link. Good read
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The Moscow Times