I am delighted to present below a guest post by Yuli Yeliseyev. Mr. Yeliseyev is a native of Saint Petersburg, Russia, and currently lives and works in the Washington, DC, area. He is a financial professional with strong personal interests in Russian and international politics.
President Obama's address to the nation on Tuesday night was timed to help build momentum for an ambitious and potentially brilliant two-pronged diplomatic and military strategy that emerged as the most promising alternative to a U.S. military strike on Syria. According to senior administration officials as well as Mr. Obama himself, he and Secretary of State John Kerry have had a number of discussions with Russian President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov on a proposed plan to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control and eventually destroy the entire arsenal with United Nations supervision.
This is a great opportunity for Russia to shine on the global stage. If Putin's foreign policy team can play a leading role in resolving the current crisis, they may achieve a much more significant improvement of Russia's image abroad than can be expected from next year's Olympics and the 2018 World Cup combined, at a much lower cost to the Russian government budget. After all, grand publicity stunts and Potemkin-style Olympic villages probably will not count as much in the eyes of the global community as important and timely deeds in the name of international peace and security.
Given the choice, the Obama administration clearly prefers not to launch an attack on Syria and instead pursue a diplomatic solution along the lines of the plan that has been discussed with the Russians. At the same time, the credible threat to use military force is what made the diplomatic solution possible in the first place. If the United States were not poised to strike Syria right now, neither Russia nor Syria would be eager to negotiate a UN plan without delay and implement it in the near future. It remains to be seen if the diplomatic efforts will ultimately be successful, but a skeptical view of Obama's handling of the situation in Syria is certainly less justified now than it was a week ago.