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Point/Counterpoint: Examining key themes from Putin's opinion piece

By Jason Miks, CNN
updated 3:01 PM EDT, Thu September 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Russian president makes appeal to American people in New York Times
  • He says poison gas was probably used by opposition, not Syrian army
  • But U.S., Britain say evidence is clear that al-Assad forces were behind attack
  • Russia has itself referred to uniqueness of the Russian nation

(CNN) -- New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez felt sick after reading it. The White House says it is "irrelevant" to Russia's proposal for Syria to hand over chemical weapons. Certainly, Russian President Vladimir Putin's direct appeal to the American people over the Syria crisis has prompted a flurry of commentary in response.

But do his claims stack up? We take a look at some of the most contentious claims in Putin's New York Times opinion piece.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future.

Not exactly. Russia has continued to supply the al-Assad regime with military hardware including attack helicopters, air defense systems, and military advisers.

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.

Not according to the U.S., Britain and others who claim the evidence is clear that Bashar al-Assad's forces were behind the attack.

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"We assess that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack on August 21 is highly unlikely," a White House statement said. "The body of information used to make this assessment includes intelligence pertaining to the regime's preparations for this attack and its means of delivery, multiple streams of intelligence about the attack itself and its effect, our post-attack observations, and the differences between the capabilities of the regime and the opposition."

Britain agrees, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying last week that there was "further" evidence that al-Assad's forces used chemical weapons, after research by the UK military laboratories in Porton Down suggested that traces of sarin gas in the soil and on clothing taken from a patient who was treated near an alleged attack were unlikely to have been faked.

Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force.

Putin's condemnation of brute force sits uneasily with Moscow's own track record of force during a conflict with Chechen separatists that claimed tens of thousands of lives, many of them civilians. In 1999, Putin took to the New York Times opinion page to defend Russian action in Chechnya, arguing that "decisive armed intervention was the only way to prevent further casualties both within and far outside the borders of Chechnya." And Georgians won't have forgotten Russia's invasion of their country five years ago last month, when Putin served as prime minister.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust.

Remember Edward Snowden? Obama took office pledging a "reset" in ties with Moscow. But the famously awkward body language at the G8 summit in June was for many a sign of how that has gone. That was even before the former NSA contractor was granted asylum in Russia, despite American requests that he be extradited. And back in 2011, Putin accused Obama's then-secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, of encouraging opposition protests after parliamentary elections that December. Time for another reset?

We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Russia's gay community might not be feeling very equal right now. A vaguely worded anti-gay propaganda law was passed overwhelmingly in Parliament this year and signed into law by Putin. The law bans public discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere children might hear it. Those found in breach of it can be fined, or deported if they are foreigners.

It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.

So "unique" is OK, then? The Financial Times reported last year on a strategy document produced by a Kremlin commission that argued, "Thanks to the unifying role of the Russian people ... a unique sociocultural civilisational community on the historical territory of the Russian state has formed: the multinational Russian nation."

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