We're 'Next' and Putin Deserves the Nobel Prize: What the Russian Press Makes of Syria

President Vladimir Putin's direct appeal to the American people in the pages of the New York Times is just one part of his government's messaging strategy on Syria. Russia's English-language media outlets are busy blasting out the Kremlin line on the conflict as well.

A few articles have focused on the American reaction to Putin's editorial on Thursday (see, for example, "White House Pokes Russia over Putin's Syria Op-Ed"), but many outlets have drawn attention to other criticisms of President Obama's stance on Syria. RT, the flashy Kremlin-financed news channel, is covering a range of critiques -- from former President Jimmy Carter to Madonna. The Russian media has also tried to gauge the American mood through polling: RT notes that a recent survey by the libertarian magazine Reason found that two-thirds of Americans feel that Obama's handling of foreign policy has been as bad or worse than President George W. Bush's. But that doesn't mean Americans are thrilled with the Russian disarmament plan; the state-owned RIA Novosti pointed to a Pew poll showing that the majority of Americans distrust Russia.

The Russian press is most interested in discrediting the story that the Assad regime used chemical weapons -- an allegation that has been supported by evidence collected by the Obama administration, the French government, the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch, among others. These efforts to present a counternarrative -- in which the rebels gassed themselves and civilians -- range from the credible but circumstantial to the just plain silly. On the more intriguing side, there's the account given by two kidnapped Europeans, who traveled to Syria as supporters of the rebels but wound up being held hostage until last week. They claim to have overheard a conversation with a rebel commander suggesting that the rebels were involved in the attack, but have not discussed details of what they heard. Less compelling is the idle speculation of Ray McGovern -- a former CIA analyst, 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and RT favorite, that the CIA fabricated evidence implicating the Assad regime in the chemical weapons attacks, and the video analysis of a Syrian nun. Across the Russian media, there's consensus on at least one thing: the rebels are "terrorists."

In addition to trying to discredit accusations that Assad used chemical weapons, the Russian press is going after the messenger: Obama. A piece by Pravda columnist Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, who coined the term "FUKUS" for the alliance that intervened in Libya, asks if Obama is "the worst president in the history of the USA." Another Pravda piece branded Obama as "blood-hungry." The state-run Voice of Russia proposed Obama's Nobel peace prize be transferred to Putin.

Then, there's the downright paranoid. An editorial in RT muses that Assad's comment that the United States should "expect everything" in retaliation for a military strike makes it more likely -- not less -- that the United States will strike Syria, regardless of chemical weapons use and punitive measures. But nothing surpasses the Cold War mentality espoused by Gennady Zyuganov, chairman of the Communist Party's central committee, who told Pravda:

Now we can and we must protect. We must help, support and protect Syria; we must constantly keep it in mind that we will be next after Syria. It may be too bold a statement, but not that long ago, we could not even imagine that NATO would be the master in the Baltic, that SS legionaries would march on the streets of Riga. Nobody thought that there would be such a mess in Central Asia, and no one thought that in North Africa, where Egypt was the leader, all would turn into a bloody drama. Today it has become a reality.

Thankfully, not all of the Russian media is trapped in 1980. At least RIA Novosti and the Moscow Times, which is often more critical of the Kremlin, took a hard look at the realpolitik of U.S.-Russian sparring over Syria. Russia isn't all that invested in whether or not the United States attacks the Assad regime, argues a RIA Novosti piece, but with no real consequences if its confrontation with Washington fails, it's too good an opportunity for Washington to pass up. The Moscow Times framed the situation differently: Putin is laying a "trap" (or maybe three traps) for Obama. And regardless of whether or not the U.S. strikes occur, the real hazard is U.S. "mission creep."

If that argument sound familiar, it's probably not because you read it in RIA Novosti. The New York Times made the same point last week.

Correction: This post originally referred to two Danish documentarians who were kidnapped in Syria. The hostages were in fact from Belgium and Italy.



7 Things Putin Loves That America Really Is Exceptional At

Is the United States of America the greatest country on earth? Writing in the New York Times on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin begged to disagree, taking issue with Barack Obama appeal to American exceptionalism during his national address on Syria this week.

"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation," Putin observed, in an op-ed arguing against U.S. military intervention in Syria. "There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

But is Putin so sure he wants to go there? After all, there are plenty of things the Russian strongman loves that only prove American exceptionalism. Here are seven.

Second-Rate Action Stars

For someone who has made anti-Americanism a hallmark of his administration, Vladimir Putin has a strange affinity for that most excellent American export: shoddy movie stars. Exhibit A: the Russian president's friendship with the actor Steven Seagal, whom Putin has brought along to martial arts competitions and whom Russian officials have floated as a potential spokesman for the country's defense industry. If Seagal doesn't embody "American exceptionalism," surely the term itself is null and void.

Topless Women

While in Germany for a state visit in April, Putin was accosted by a protester from the Ukrainian feminist group Femen, which is best known for its topless protests. As you can tell above, Putin was pretty pleased at the development, which occurred during a stop at a trade fair in Hanover.

If there's one thing the United States does exceptionally well, it's bare-chested women. Mr. President, come to America! You'll love it here!

Deep-Sea Submarines

In July, Putin boarded a miniature submarine to check out a wreck in the Baltic. But if he really wants to seek out some cutting-edge submarines, there's no country like the United States. Last year, the filmmaker and explorer James Cameron became the first person to take a solo dive to the deepest point in the ocean.

Rhythm & Blues

In 2010, Putin decided it was a good idea to belt out the classic American track "Blueberry Hill." The result was about as cringeworthy as you'd expect:

Mr. President, leave the rhythm & blues to the Americans, please:

Biker Gangs

Calling them his "brothers," Putin joined up in 2011 with a biker gang known as the "Night Wolves" for a ride that commemorated World War II. But this group -- though nationalistic enough for Putin's taste -- are really just a pale imitation of the original biker gang, the Hells Angels, an American original. Just look at that belly. Does anything say devil-may-care-outlaw quite like shaved stomach hair and a flaming skull?

Super Bowl Rings

In 2005, Putin met with Patriots owner Bob Kraft, asked to try on his Super Bowl ring, and loved the ring so much that he decided to keep it (Putin claims it was a gift). Have a look at the video below of Putin coveting the ring and decide for yourself whether Putin knew what he was doing:

It all just goes to show, no one does gaudy jewelry -- or football -- quite like America.


Just look at this amazing photo of Putin getting nuzzled by his dogs. Perhaps you were once upset about Putin jailing dissidents and discriminating against gay people. Perhaps you don't care for the way he's sanctioned the slaughter in Syria. But come on! The big dog on the right is even named Buffy! At the end of the day Putin is just another misunderstood guy with his heart in the right place.

But in the puppy propaganda wars, does Putin even come close to Obama? Look at this guy:

What youth! What vitality! What energy! Just another ordinary guy tossing the pigskin around with good ol' Bo.

American exceptionalism? You betcha.