Putin says Syria rebels behind chemical attack

Washington - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday argued that Syrian rebels were behind a chemical weapons attack which prompted the United States to threaten military strikes against Bashar Assad's regime.

Writing in a New York Times opinion piece released late Wednesday, he suggested they had carried out the attack to provoke foreign military intervention in their favour.

Putin made the allegation on the eve of high-level talks in Geneva between US and Russian diplomats.

In a demonstration of the vast gulf between the US and Russian positions, Putin said Assad's opponents were responsible for the 21 August attack in Ghouta.

The United States says the attack left more than 1 400 people dead.

President Barack Obama has pushed for military action against Syria following the attack, which the US, its allies and several independent monitors have said was carried out by Syrian government forces.

"No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria," Putin wrote.

"But there is every reason to believe it was not used by the Syrian Army but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists."

‘American exceptionalism’

Putin's commentary appeared as US Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Geneva for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on a proposal to make Syria give up its chemical weapons.

Putin meanwhile warned that any US military strike on Syria which took place without United Nations approval would undermine the global body and risk triggering a wider regional conflict.

Such military action would "result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders," Putin wrote.

Putin characterised his unusual appearance in the Times as an opportunity to "speak directly to the American people and their political leaders.

"No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage," he added.

"This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorisation."

Russia has repeatedly indicated it will veto any UN resolution which seeks to blame Assad's government for the Ghouta attack.

Putin wrote in his commentary that an American military strike could lead to massive loss of life and would foment turmoil throughout the already restive Middle East.

"A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism.

"It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilise the Middle East and North Africa.

"It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance."

Putin's warning gave way to a broad critique of US foreign policy in the post 9/11-era.

He accused America of pursuing foreign policy by "brute force" and said it had failed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

"Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan 'you're either with us or against us'.

"But force has proved ineffective and pointless," Putin argued: Afghanistan was "reeling," Libya was "divided" and Iraq had been left with an ongoing civil war where "dozens" died every day.

He concluded with a damning critique of America's cherished ideological doctrine of "American exceptionalism".

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

"There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy.

"We are all different [but]) ... we must not forget that God created us equal."

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