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Putin’s OpEd is misleading, but that’s unimportant

Posted Sept. 13, 2013, at 1:10 p.m.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the mayoral inauguration ceremony in Moscow Sept. 12, 2013.
MAXIM SHEMETOV | REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the mayoral inauguration ceremony in Moscow Sept. 12, 2013.

It may not be the reaction he was hoping for, but Vladimir Putin shouldn’t take it personally that one reader was so offended by his OpEd in the New York Times that he “almost wanted to vomit.” To the contrary: An “engaged audience” is all the rage in journalism nowadays.

At any rate, that reader, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., missed the larger point. What makes Putin’s queasy assembly of half-truths and disingenuous claims remarkable is that it was written at all. Putin has now invested his personal prestige in the attempt to persuade Syria’s President Bashar Assad to put his chemical weapons arsenal under international control. The article’s very existence is the most encouraging sign yet that Russia takes this plan seriously.

The U.S. and others should look past Putin’s distortions. He’s hardly unique among politicians in bending the truth to make his case. They should ignore, too, his calls for the U.S. to renounce the threat of force, which has made the Russian plan possible and will be useful even to Putin as he tries to ensure that Assad delivers on any agreement.

In other words: Putin is that rare writer whose actions matter more than his words. There’s no need to trust Putin, to paraphrase another former president, but it’s important to verify his intentions.

Bloomberg News (Sept. 13)

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