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Putin to US: 'Exceptional?' Nyet! (+video)

In a rare, direct message to Americans, Putin lays out his case against a US strike on Syria. Opposition extremists, not Assad, used poison gas, he says. Then, the kicker: America is not exceptional, and it's dangerous to think it is.

By Staff Writer / September 12, 2013

Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles during his meeting with Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on Thursday. Meanwhile, his first op-ed for an American audience is making waves in the US.

Maxim Shemetov/Pool/AP

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WASHINGTON

Russian President Vladimir Putin has an opinion piece on Syria in today’s New York Times that has official Washington buzzing.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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The article argues against any US strike on Syria in retaliation for alleged chemical weapons use. Attacking without UN Security Council authorization would weaken the UN and ignore international law, writes Mr. Putin.

The Syrian civil war is not a battle for democracy, according to the Russian president. “There are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government,” he says.

Putin reiterates his claim that the alleged chemical weapons attack, which the US says killed over 1,400 civilians, was carried out by the opposition, not the Bashar al-Assad regime, “to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons."

But he welcomes Mr. Assad’s willingness to place Syria's chemical arsenal under international control for destruction, as well as President Obama’s willingness to work with Russia to perhaps make that happen.

“My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust,” Putin writes.

He concludes by disagreeing with Obama’s words pushing American exceptionalism in his Tuesday speech to the nation on Syria.

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

Initial reaction from many pundits to Putin’s op-ed was bemusement. Some wondered aloud whether Putin wrote it shirtless, perhaps while wrestling an alligator. (Photos of Putin on vacation often show him in manly pursuits.) Others blustered that The New York Times should reserve its op-ed space for the blathering of US politicians, not the blathering of foreign ones.

Washington Post Wonkblog editor Ezra Klein asked rhetorically if any could imagine the Putin op-ed editing process.

“What happens when international diplomacy stops being polite and starts getting ... weird?” wrote Mr. Klein and Evan Soltas in a Wonkblog piece.

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