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06 October 2013

Is Putin worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize?

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While the Russian president’s supporters wax eloquent about his efforts to stem conflict, there are others who point to rights violations in Chechnya and Georgia

By Tariq A. Al Maeena

In a few days, the winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize will be duly announced. An award termed as “the world’s most prestigious prize”, this is an international recognition for whoever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

Nominations for the next award in 2014 have begun pouring in. And one that took a few people in the region by surprise was that of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian institution that nominated him stated that Putin is rightfully deserving of this esteemed award because he “actively promotes settlement of all conflicts arising on the planet”. This has come on the heels of feverish behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity that forestalled an impending US military strike against Syrian targets.

In its letter recommending Putin as a nominee, the institute stated: “Being the leader of one of the leading nations of the world, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin makes efforts to maintain peace and tranquillity not only on the territory of his own country, but also actively promotes settlement of all conflicts arising on the planet”, as reported by the New York Times.

The nomination has created somewhat of a controversy with some political figures approving the move while others are denouncing it. Russian MP Josif Kobzon defended Putin’s nomination by comparing his credentials to that of US President Barack Obama, who won the prize in 2009.

Obama, he charged, “is the man who has initiated and approved the United States’ aggressive actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he is preparing for an invasion into Syria. He bears this title nevertheless. Our president, who tries to stop the bloodshed and who tries to help the conflict situation with political dialogue, is more worthy of this high title”.

The president of the institute nominating Putin, Georgy Trapeznikov, in justifying the selection, is reported to have said: “I have personally seen Putin’s activity to calm down hotheads in South Ossetia and to promote peace. He himself goes to the hotspots and does his best to resolve problems by peaceful methods. They awarded Obama a peace prize before he had done anything, whereas Putin has already done a lot to establish peace in the world. He corresponds to all the requirements of the Nobel Prize Committee.”

Critics, on the other hand, were not so full of flattery. Activists in Russia’s human rights community were astounded by the nomination. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a leading Russian human rights activist, who is in the running for the 2013 Peace Prize, said: “It’s impossible to give the Peace Prize to a person who initiated two wars in Chechnya and Georgia.” Like her, many Russians hold Putin responsible for the bloodshed against the Chechnya separatists and the surprise invasion of Georgia, a neighbouring state, and find it difficult to fathom that his nomination should be given any value.

How did some in the region take this news? Sultan, who lives in the UAE, tells me that “his selection throws a stain on the prestige of the prize. We all know that the Russians have been supplying Bashar Al Assad with all his military needs. This has allowed the Syrian president to continue his bloodshed against his own people for the past two years. Putin’s track record of human rights abuses is stained. Add to that Russia’s encouragement of Iran’s nuclear programme, and you certainly are not painting a picture of a peaceful individual.”

Yaseen, an Omani, grudgingly admits that “were it not for Putin, we may be witnessing much more mayhem and not only in Syria, but the whole region. The Syrian opposition forces are fighting among themselves for power. Any attack by a foreign military force could trigger a wider sectarian conflict that could spill all over the region, possibly dragging Iran and Israel into this quagmire. The lessons of Iraq should not be quickly forgotten. Putin did well to prevent such a scenario.”

Jaber, a Qatari, was not aware of Putin’s nomination. However, he added that he was “glad that the Russian president was given recognition for his behind the scenes efforts to prevent a large-scale war erupting in Syria. Syria is much closer to us in distance than Libya or Iraq, and a US invasion could have led to disastrous effects. It is not a door we should be in a hurry to open as we have no idea what could be on the other side.”

Hussain, a Saudi, surmised that, “whatever the world may have though of Vladimir Putin before the recent diplomatic overtures that led to a political agreement, the fact remains that while the chemical inspection is going on, large-scale bloodshed was averted. Maybe the Syrians and their allies are buying time and it is a crime about what is going in Syria today. Al Assad deserves to be fully accountable for his actions, and I hope to see the day when he is brought before the International Criminal Court to answer for his crimes. But we also have to carefully consider the consequences had American forces hit Syria. Nobody can predict with any degree of confidence the fallout from such an action. Whether he deserves the award or not, I am sure the selection committee will eventually make the right choice.”

It would be interesting to know whose voices drum the loudest when the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner is honoured by the Norwegian Nobel committee in the award ceremony that will take place next on December 10, 2014 in Oslo, Norway.

[Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena]

(Courtesy: Gulf News)

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