Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly suggested that November’s terrorist attacks in Paris might never have happened if the US had “listened” to officials who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Putin made the suggestion during an interview with German newspaper Bild. His comments about the US and Iraq appear in an English translation on the Kremlin’s website, but not in an English translation provided by Bild.
Here’s the exchange as recorded on the Kremlin’s site (emphasis added):
Question: There is a theory saying that there are two Mr. Putins: the first one was young pre-2007 Mr. Putin who showed solidarity with the United States and who was friends with Mr Schroeder, and then, after 2007, another Mr. Putin came. Back in 2000 you said, “We should have no confrontations in Europe, we should do everything to overcome them.” And now we have found ourselves in such confrontation.
May I ask you a straightforward question? When we are going to have the first Mr. Putin back?
Putin: I have never changed. First, I still feel young today. I was and I continue to be Mr Schroeder’s friend. Nothing has changed.
My attitude to such issues as the fight against terrorism has not changed either. It is true, on September 11, [2001,] I was the first to call President Bush and express my solidarity. Indeed, we stood ready to do everything to combat terrorism together. Not so long ago, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, I called and then met the President of France.
If anyone had listened to [former German Chancellor] Gerhard Schröder, to [former French President] Jacques Chirac, to me, perhaps there would have been none of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, as there would have been no upsurge of terrorism in Iraq, Libya, or other countries in the Middle East.
Chirac and Schröder both opposed invading Iraq, as did Putin. In 2007, Chirac made statements similar to the ones Putin reportedly made in the Bild interview — that invading Iraq and toppling the regime of President Saddam Hussein destabilized the Middle East and allowed terrorism to spread.
Putin went on to state that Russia and the West are “faced with common threats” and called for countries to combine efforts to combat these threats, according to the transcript posted on the Kremlin’s site.
Russia claims to be fighting terrorists in Syria, where it started a bombing campaign late last year. But military analysts say Putin’s primary goal is propping up the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moderate rebels, as well as terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda and ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, and Daesh), are fighting the Assad regime for control of territory in Syria.
And though Russia made a show of supporting France in the wake of the ISIS-linked attacks on Paris, which left 130 people dead, experts have questioned whether the sort of cooperation Russia is calling for in the fight against terrorism is viable.
“Through Iran and Syria, its proxies, Russia is a principal purveyor of arms to Hamas and Hezbollah,” Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, wrote in November for the Atlantic Council. “Indeed, two days after the attacks in Paris, Russia reaffirmed its earlier position that Hamas and Hezbollah are not terrorists.”
Hamas and Hezbollah are both US-designated terrorist organisations.
Blank continued: “In other words, Russia uses terrorism as a legitimate weapon with which to advance its interests. When it comes to Middle Eastern terrorists, it reserves for itself the right to determine who is ‘good’ or ‘bad.'”
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