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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Putin Takes Center Stage In Syria Crisis

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013. (Maxim Shemetov/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013. (Maxim Shemetov/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has deftly seized the initiative, overshadowing Barack Obama to set the international agenda in the Syrian crisis

Today, Putin has an op-ed in the New York Times laying out a comprehensive challenge to the American view on Syria.

He writes, “there is every reason to believe” that it was the Syrian opposition that used chemical weapons, not the Syrian government.

Putin says military action without U.N. Security Council approval “could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”

And he takes issue with President Obama’s statement that U.S. policy in the world is what makes America exceptional.

Putin responds, “it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,” adding, “we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Senator John McCain tweeted that Putin’s op-ed is “an insult to the intelligence of every American.”

The White House responded with an official telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that the important thing is, “Putin is now fully invested in Syria’s Chemical Weapons disarmament … everything else is irrelevant.”

Putin’s op-ed comes in the midst of a growing debate over President Obama shifting stances on the Syrian conflict. Supporters say the policy changes demonstrate Obama’s strength, showing a president who can take in new information and new realities.

Richard N. Haass, a former state department official who has supported Obama at times, said to the New York Times, “words like ad hoc and improvised and unsteady come to mind. This has been probably the most undisciplined stretch of foreign policy of his presidency.”

Even if events run in the White House’s favor, President Obama’s second thoughts and third thoughts have given Putin the opportunity to come from the margins to center stage in the Syrian conflict.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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