Home inFocus Global Hotspots (Winter 2018) An Open Letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin

An Open Letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin

Jiri Valenta and Leni Friedman Valenta Winter 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, pool)

Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for publicizing that President Donald Trump and the CIA shared information that helped avoid a terrorist attack on St. Petersburg’s Kadansky Cathedral. This reminds us that at the June 2001 Slovenia summit, you shared information collected by Russian intelligence in Chechnya warning about an Al Qaeda attack on the United States. It is unfortunate the strong Russo-U.S. relationship of 2001-2002 has unraveled over time for many reasons – and we are reminded of the need to restore it.

Resolution of Syrian Conflict

In the interest of improving that relationship, we wish to briefly make known our views on certain policy issues, cognizant that others are reading this letter.  We do not speak for any governmental body.

As you know, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, having launched a covert war in Syria and supporting the rebels seeking to oust Asad, were on a path to war with Russia and Iran in Syria. Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell even spoke of “killing Russians” in Syria. Why not share frankly the reasons for Russia’s 2015 intervention there?

Besides protecting your considerable investments, you saw the vacuum created by the killing of dictators in Iraq and Libya delivering power to the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Surely, the removal of Asad would also have turned secular Syria into another jihadist hell.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam in November, you and President Trump issued a joint statement on Syria. Sadly, the full summit was called off; as your adviser, Andrey Kortunov remarked, you and Russia are still “toxic” to Trump at home.

In your joint statement, you agreed that “there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria.” You committed to the Geneva process. You upheld the maintenance of Syria’s sovereignty and right to free elections under U.N. supervision. The two of you also agreed to cooperate on military de-confliction, a joint effort at the liquidation of ISIS, a review of cease fire agreements, safe de-escalation, and humanitarian measures. However, I am sure you would agree with Kortunov that the joint statement was “a step in the right direction, but collaboration remains situational, not strategic.”

You had reason to worry when Trump fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at Asad’s Shayrat airfield to punish him for a second poison gas attack on civilians. (The first was in 2013). Wisely, you appear to have concluded that Trump, whether or not he believed Asad responsible for the attack, had to demonstrate that when it comes to red lines, he’s not Obama (who did not respond with force to the 2013 sarin gas attack).

Reports also indicate you are not at ease with the 2,000 U.S. troops still in Syria. Why not? Under Obama, the United States was covertly seeking to oust Asad. Trump redirected American forces and helped smash ISIS. America does plan to stay for a while, but to stabilize Syria in strategic collaboration with Russia.

However, on your surprise stopover at your Khmeimim airbase in Syria on Dec. 11, 2017, you claimed victory on behalf of Syrian dictator Asad’s forces, as Russia, with the help of Iranian personnel, has wrested control of most of the country from the Islamic State. Thus, you said you planned to send a “significant” part of your forces home. It was an odd move. In the United States, in light of past Russian pullouts including Leonid Brezhnev’s so-called withdrawals from Afghanistan, you were not entirely believed.

In any event, be frank: The civil war in Syria is by no means over, and Syria is economically devastated—loss of oil revenues, infrastructure, and shortages of food. Defeating an enemy is one thing; sustaining peace is another.

At present, U.S. and Russian forces must avoid accidents in a crowded Syria. This brings me to that incident over the Euphrates River in December when a couple of American F-22 Raptors almost butted heads with a pair of your Su Frogfoots.  Of course, they blamed each other. What’s new? Yet you must know that two weeks earlier, your side submitted an identical report on an event that the American side said never happened. We have to work together, or at least avoid each other.

Furthermore, there are actors in Syria besides Russians and Americans. These include Iranians, foreign rebels, Kurds, Turks and Saudis, not to mention Asad’s forces. The Kurds, loyal and successful U.S. allies, seek a homeland, i.e. a big chunk of Syria, and some U.S troops in Syria support the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Battling the Kurds are the Turks, who, despite their support of jihadist forces, are still NATO allies. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent his troops into Syria largely fearing successes of the Kurds could rouse separatist forces in eastern Turkey. But you and Trump have to think creatively about how to offer Kurds at least autonomy in the peace talks in Geneva, and perhaps a path to future independence – they are the balance to jihadists.

There is also the problem of finding a national leader to replace Asad, the much-hated leader of the Alawite minority.  Yet it remains important to you and Trump that Alawites protect Syria’s Arab Christians.

Unless you and Trump get together to negotiate directly and forge strategic cooperation between our countries the Syrian war will drag on for years.

Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

Syria does not exist in a vacuum. The neighbors are affected, and besides Turkey, one of these is Israel. Frankly, we are confused about where you stand on the U.S. decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American embassy. You, yourself, recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, yet your diplomats have now attacked Trump for effectively doing the same.

Russia is friendly with both Israel and the PLO – of which the Palestinian Authority is a branch. Perhaps your diplomats can be helpful in negotiating an end to their conflict. The solution must include the right of Israel to control the Golan Heights without the presence of Hezbollah, Iran’s primary armed proxy.

Just this week we were horrified to discover that the Obama administration, while criticizing your support of Hezbollah, protected Hezbollah’s massive drug peddling and money laundering schemes in the Americas. But you were selling arms to Hezbollah drug kingpins. One, Ali Fayad, was indicted for plans to assassinate U.S. officials and attempting to acquire anti-aircraft missiles.

Possible Summit in Prague

President Putin, we frankly do not believe that the major threats to world order can be fully resolved without you and President Trump sitting together. Despite domestic politics and polarization at home, an open-ended summit should take place.

We suggest Prague, the capital of a NATO country, whose president, Milos Zeman, has friendly relations with both the United States and Russia.

We Need Each Other

The United States and Russia should strive to renew the anti-Islamist terrorist partnership. The attack on the Kadansky Cathedral was spoiled by a CIA tip and joint operations of American and Russian intelligence. But ISIS fighters and their violent sympathizers, defeated in Iraq and Syria, are not demoralized. Their jihad is spreading across the globe.

In the continuing war with jihadists, both our nations, while endowed with different faces of Judaic-Christian civilization, need each other to fight and eventually defeat not just Islamic terrorism but the evil ideology that underlies it.  Unfortunately, our president, constantly facing false charges of racism, cannot attack the new Nazis, as Winston Churchill, did the old ones, when he spoke of how “the civilized world so foolishly, so supinely, so insensately allowed the Nazi gangsters to build up, year by year from almost nothing.”


Born in Nazi-occupied Bohemia to a Czech-Jewish, Holocaust afflicted family, Jiri Valenta, Ph.D., is a Non-Resident Senior Research Associate at the BESA [Begin-Sadat] Center for Strategic Studies, Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv, Israel. He and his wife, Leni Friedman Valenta, are the principals of The Institute of Post-Communist Studies and Terrorism (jvlv.net).

Author of Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968 (Johns Hopkins, 1991), and other books, Jiri founded the Institute of Soviet and East European Studies [ISEES] at the University of Miami in 1986. Valenta is a long-standing member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former professor and coordinator of Soviet and East European Studies at the U.S. Naval Post-Graduate School. He served with Natan Sharansky and Alan Dershowitz on the National Council on Soviet Jewry from 1976-87.

He is also the 2005 winner of the Jan Masaryk silver medal from the Czech Republic for his “contribution to preserving and promoting relations between Czech Republic and the United States of America,” while managing a Czech foreign ministry think tank under Vaclav Havel from 1991-93. Beside co-producing books on Czech national interests, Valenta proposed that the PLO embassy be closed as a terrorist center. The PLO published a booklet, Palestinska Otazka [Palestine Question] attacking Valenta and the Embassy remained open.

Shortly before the August 1991 anti-Yeltsin coup attempt in Moscow, Valenta helped organize a new route to Israel through Prague for Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate. The Sanford Ziff Freedom Flight, supported by philanthropist Ziff and the Cuban American National Foundation, was approved and facilitated by then-President Vaclav Havel.