UNITED NATIONS — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday accused the West of creating upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa with a misplaced notion of imposing democracy and said it was making an “enormous mistake” by refusing to cooperate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations.
Putin, speaking to the U.N. General Assembly shortly after President Obama’s address to the world body, said that though people in the region clearly wanted and deserved change, “the export of revolutions, this time so-called democratic ones,” has resulted in “violence and social disaster” instead of a “triumph for democracy.”
“I cannot help asking those who have forced this situation, do you realize now what you’ve done?” Putin said in remarks that never mentioned, but were clearly directed at, the United States. “Policies based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned.”
The emergence of terrorist-fueled “anarchy,” he said, began after the Iraqi military, which now forms the core of the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria, was “thrown out in the street” following the U.S. invasion of Iraq and after the West “illegally” intervened in Libya in a bombing campaign that eventually led to the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
Russia has directly challenged U.S. military and diplomatic dominance in the region and the U.S.-led coalition air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Over the past month, Putin has expanded Russia’s long-running provision of weapons to Assad with deployments of tanks and aircraft. Last week, Russia and Iraq announced they would establish a rival anti-militant coalition in Baghdad, to include Iran and Syria.
Much of his speech appeared to be laying down markers prior to a meeting that Putin and Obama are scheduled to hold later Monday, in which U.S. officials have said they hope the Russian leader will make his intentions clear in both Syria and Iraq.
U.S. officials have been careful not to rule out some kind of cooperation with Russia while making clear that Assad ultimately must leave power. But both the Obama administration and European leaders have indicated in recent days that Assad’s departure could occur toward the end of a political negotiation rather than at the beginning.
For now, Putin insisted, “no one but President Assad’s armed forces and [Kurdish] militias are truly fighting the Islamic State.” He said it would be an “enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces.”
Russia’s “honest and frank approach,” he said, “has been used as a pretext to accuse it of growing ambitions, as if those who say it have no ambitions at all.” The fact is, he said, “we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs in the world.”
The Russians, who currently chair the U.N. Security Council, have called for a meeting next month to discuss the issue. Moscow has also proposed a meeting among itself, the United States, and the governments of Iran — Assad’s other main backer — Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt on coordination over Syria.
Russia maintains that Western intervention in Syria is a violation of international law.
“On the basis of international law,” Putin said, “we must join efforts to address the problems that all of us are facing, and create a genuinely broad international coalition against terrorism . . . similar to the anti-Hitler coalition,” and including Muslim countries.
While much of his address was devoted to the Middle East and what he described as the sins of the West, Putin also repeated Russia’s charge that the fall of Ukraine’s government early last year was “orchestrated from outside.” He said Russia would adhere to the Minsk agreements, which call for a cease-fire and a political settlement, once they gave adequate representation to the legitimate demands of separatists in eastern Ukraine.