In September 2013, in the midst of some of the most turbulent days of the crisis in Syria, a letter to The New York Times gained worldwide attention for boldly proclaiming that “it is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts has become commonplace for the United States.” The letter went on to condemn possible U.S. action in Syria on humanitarian grounds, asserting that a U.S. military strike would “result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.” So, who wrote this widely-circulated letter? Russian President Vladimir Putin, the same man who just authorized the use of military force to resolve Ukraine’s internal political struggle.
Putin’s actions in response to the crisis in Ukraine stand in direct contrast to his proclaimed stance on Syria. With the United States and other Western powers threatening repercussions for Russian infringement of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Putin knows that Russian military action would expand the Ukrainian political turmoil into an international conflict. A Russian invasion of Ukraine is also contrary to the wishes of most Ukrainians, proving that Putin really has no interest in protecting the self-determination of peoples.
Even Putin’s action of sending troops into heavily Russian Crimea but not the pro-Western parts of Ukraine is extremely hypocritical. In his New York Times letter, Putin advocated for international law and explained that states were only permitted to use force in the case of self-defense or with authorization from the UN Security Council. Certainly the three permanent Western members of the Security Council—Britain, France, and the United States—are not going to authorize any kind of Russian incursion into Ukraine, and the argument that occupying the Crimea is a form of Russian self-defense is tenuous at best. While few ever really believed Putin possessed a fundamental concern for defending human rights, it is nevertheless shocking how brazenly Putin would display his hypocrisy toward settling internal conflicts.