If all you know about Vladimir Putin is what you learned from Bob Costas during NBC’s Olympic coverage Thursday night, you might be excused for thinking the Russian autocrat is a great peacemaker on the world stage.
Costas ran a video montage to bring viewers up to speed on the Russian president as the Olympic Winter Games began in Sochi, Russia. For a minute, NBC looked an awful lot like a Russian propaganda network — at least in how it portrayed Putin as a leader in the international arena.
“Just in the past year, Putin brokered a deal to allow Syria to avoid a U.S. military strike by giving up its chemical weapons,” Costas intoned over pictures of Putin wheeling and dealing on the world stage. “And helped bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear intentions.”
Except, Putin is one of the chief backers of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the deal he helped broker with the U.S. isn’t fully being implemented. Syria has repeatedly missed deadlines in turning over its chemical weapons stockpile.
But don’t worry: Putin is probably not all that concerned. No one believes Putin brokered the deal because he is a great man of peace who was hoping to lessen the carnage in Syria, where an estimated 130,000 have died since civil war began in 2011 and the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people. Rather, Putin hoped that the deal would take U.S. pressure off Assad so he could crush the rebel insurgency in his country unmolested. And it’s worked. Before the deal, Assad was an international pariah. Putin’s deal helped legitimize him, which is good for Russia since Syria is one of the country’s prime Middle East ally.
As for Iran, whatever you think of the current negotiations between Iran, the U.S. and other world powers over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, Russia did not play a big role in bringing the negotiations about. International sanctions on Iran played a large role and Russia has attempted to stymie increased sanctions on Iran every step of the way. As the Washington Post put it last month, Russia and China have “long [been] Iran’s protectors at the United Nations.”
Fortunately, the New Yorker’s David Remnick provided some perspective for viewers in an interview after the montage.
“On the world stage, though, remember he is an autocrat. He is no democrat. He has no interest in LGBT issues or human rights — all the things that are being discussed,” Remnick said.
A friend to some of the world’s worst regimes, Putin may deserve credit for outmaneuvering the United States. But few other than Bob Costas and Russian state media would portray him as a peacemaker.