Vladimir Putin may be the world's most hypocritical leader.
The debate over the Syrian chemical weapons attack has brought this into sharp focus. The Russian president has repeatedly called the idea that the Syrian government carried out the attack "absurd" and "utter nonsense."
That leaves only one alternative: Syrian rebels did it — an idea that is absurd, utter nonsense. First of all, Syrian President Bashar Assad is already responsible for the brutal killing of more than 100,000 of his own people — using billions of dollars worth of weapons Mr. Putin sold him. Why would it be surprising that he used a different method to slaughter a mere 1,400 more, including at least 400 children?
What's more, are we to believe that the rebels decided that killing so many of their own people was a smart, pragmatic strategy? So they broke into the Syrian military base, home to Unit 450 that controls Syria's chemical weapons, and seized large quantities of the gas. Then they managed to load all that gas onto Syrian warheads (an extremely complex process) and launched the missiles at their own people — while the Syrian army stood by and watched.
Mr. Putin, you are the one who is absurd.
He even warned the U.S. and its allies to bring the case for an attack to the United Nations Security Council. But Mr. Putin's U.N. minions have vetoed every motion that even criticizes Syria. Why on earth would anyone be so foolish as to try again now?
Now Russia seems to be embracing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's idea of placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control — even after claiming that Mr. Assad hadn't used them.
The entire discussion, Mr. Putin argued, is "a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict." Then he dispatched several warships to the Mediterranean.
Mr. Putin is "miles away from the truth" on these issues, British Prime Minister David Cameron said.
So far, Russia has been the only nation deeply involved in the Syrian conflict — other than Syria's neighbors, who, according to new U.N. figures, have taken in more than 2 million refugees, most of whom presumably were afraid of being killed by those Russian weapons.
Ask Russian officials, and they will deny that Russia sells weapons to Syria, except those needed for defensive purposes. Well, in a war, any weapon can be described as defensive.
Last year, the Russian foreign ministry confirmed that it was selling a shipload of Mi-25 helicopter gunships to Mr. Assad. Are those defensive? And when Cypriot authorities searched a Russian cargo vessel that stopped there for refueling last year, they found the ship loaded with "defensive" bullets and other ammunition. That ship's crew gave written assurances it was headed for Turkey, but it changed course and docked in Syria, Reuters reported at the time.
Even the Arab League has called on Russia to stop arming the Assad regime, saying "any assistance to violence must be ceased because when you supply military equipment, you help kill people."
With all that and so much more, the Russian government had the gall to accuse the United States of arming the rebels.
Mr. Putin's lackey foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, charged that the U.S. "is providing arms to the Syrian opposition which are being used against the Syrian government." That was shortly before the U.S. decided last spring to begin giving the rebels rifles and other small arms. (To date, not one rifle has been delivered.)
Mr. Putin has repeatedly declared that he supports Mr. Assad because the Syrian president stands as a bulwark "against Islamic radicalism." In fact, as he certainly knows, since the war began Syria has turned into a magnet for Islamic radicals. Thousands of them have been flooding into the state from neighboring countries, intent on deposing Mr. Assad and turning Syria into an extremist Islamic republic.
Mr. Putin's hypocrisy extends beyond Syria. Referring to that conflict, he declared that "nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be in power and who should not." Then, last month, Russia began blocking imports from Ukraine, the former Soviet republic, because that government was planning to sign a trade agreement with the European Union.
Euractiv, an EU news website, reported on a Russian document that says the government will do everything in its power to assure the defeat of Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, in the next presidential election and install a staunchly pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Medvedchuk, in his place.
Forbes Magazine succinctly summed up the Western view of Mr. Putin when it described him as "the world's most unlovable man."
Joel Brinkley is the Hearst professional in residence at Stanford University and a Pulitzer Prize-winning former correspondent for The New York Times.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun