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September 13th, 2013
12:52 PM ET

Expert: Putin has bought Assad 'a ton of time'

Russian President Vladimir Putin penned an op-ed in The New York Times Thursday, raising questions about his motivations to speak out and what he is trying to accomplish by speaking directly to the American people.

"This is a classic Russian tactic," said Julia Ioffe, editor at The New Republic who was a Moscow-based reporter for years.

Putin is muddying the waters, said Ioffe, hiding the fact that it makes no sense to deny that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his people, but at the same time, express interest in having Assad give up his chemical weapons.

The op-ed also demonstrates what Ioffe calls a cornerstone of Putin's presidency – raising Russia off its knees.

"He believes Russia was humiliated in the 90s at the end of the Cold War, humiliated by America. This is Russia standing up to America," said Ioffe. "He's also obsessed with not having a unipolar world. Not having America call all the shots across the globe."

The op-ed lays out Putin's position – that Americans just want to bomb things, but that he, Putin, is the purveyor of peace.

But does Putin actually want there to be a solution to the Syria crisis, or is he just muddying the waters?

"I don't think he really cares," said Ioffe, adding that Putin is not angling for a Nobel Peace Prize and isn't going to get one.

"He's bought Assad a ton of time. And now he's gotten Obama to put aside what was one of the goals of military strikes, (which) was to get Assad from power. Now we've given up on that, now we're just talking about this one detail of chemical weapons," said Ioffe.

The Russia proposal to disarm Syria of its stockpile of chemical weapons is currently being discussed in Geneva. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that Russia "has put its prestige and credibility on the line in backing this proposal."

But Ioffe disagrees.

"If the proposal fails, it's no skin off Putin's back, because he can say look, I tried something. I tried a real diplomatic solution. I was able to bring both sides to the table," said Ioffe.

If the two sides fail to broker a deal, Putin will likely blame the Americans, saying "the Americans just want to bomb things. Americans are always the aggressor," said Ioffe.

Bottom line, Putin's op-ed was a very savvy political move, orchestrated by public relations firm Ketchum, said Ioffe.

"Ketchum has been working for Vladimir Putin for a long time, even when he was technically the prime minister and was in a different building across town Moscow. The people who worked at Ketchum for him ... were so frustrated because they would spend time putting together plans, they would make a recommendation, and the Russians would do whatever the hell they wanted anyway," said Ioffe.

"I think he has his own people write (the op-ed). And this is Putin tactic when he ran for president in 2012," said Ioffe. "His presidential campaign was just a series of editorials, one in each Russian newspaper."

"This one was a good one for him. Usually they're really really boring and dry and really long. This one was good," said Ioffe.

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