Yesterday U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin gave speeches at the United Nations where both world leaders used the gathering to criticize the foreign policies of their own former cold war rival.
Obama indirectly attacked President Putin’s failure at home to uphold democratic principles while the Kremlin maintains an assertive foreign policy in Syria and supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose government in Damascus is believed to be responsible for carrying out chemical weapons attacks during Syria’s four year civil war.
“We see an erosion of the democratic principles and human rights that are fundamental to this institution’s mission; information is strictly controlled, the space for civil society restricted” Obama said.
“We’re told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder; that it’s the only way to stamp out terrorism, or prevent foreign meddling. In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse” Obama added.
Obama admitted that the United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict in Syria. But the U.S. leader emphasized that there can’t be a return to the pre-war status quo.
Obama criticized Putin’s interventionist approach towards Ukraine which comes after Russia annexed Crimea in the spring of 2014 and stands accused of supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine while sending thousands of Russian troops to the Russian-Ukrainian border in a show of force.
Obama referenced Russia’s heavy-handed approach towards Ukraine when he said that the United States cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated.
“If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today. That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia” Obama said.
Later in his address, Obama pointed out that the Ukrainian people are more interested aligning with Europe instead of Russia whose economy has been impacted by capital flight, international sanctions, and plummeting oil prices.
Russian President Putin said the West was making an “enormous mistake” by not cooperating with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the fight against the Islamic State militant group.
“We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face. We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurds militias are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria” Putin said.
Putin later blamed the United States for its military role in Iraq and Libya and emphasized that the West’s aggression in those countries resulted in a power vacuum across the region, giving Islamic State an opportunity to fill the gap and recruit former Iraqi servicemen who were thrown out into the street after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“Many recruits also come from Libya, a country whose statehood was destroyed as a result of a gross violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973” Putin said.
Concerning Ukraine, Putin explained that only through a faithful implementation of the Minsk agreements of February 12th, 2015, can we put an end to the bloodshed and find a way out of the deadlock.
Putin admitted that Ukraine’s territorial integrity “cannot be ensured by threat of force and force of arms” but he followed up by saying that the “choice of people” in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine needs to be considered.
“What is needed is a genuine consideration for the interests and rights of the people in the Donbas region and respect for their choice.”