PARIS – “How many divisions does the Pope have?” Joseph Stalin famously quipped when told to be mindful of the Vatican. In an updated lesson in realpolitik, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently was happy to count Pope Francis as an ally in opposing American military intervention in Syria. Presenting himself as the last pillar of respect for international law, Putin offered ethics lessons to the United States – and specifically to President Barack Obama.
With the US-Russian agreement, signed in Geneva on September 14, to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, Russia has returned to the global scene – and not only because of its nuisance value. Could Putin one day receive, like Obama before him, a Nobel Peace Prize? Has not Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who proposed the deal, already entered the pantheon of great Russian diplomats, as the successor of Karl Nesselrode, the Russian envoy to the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna and to the Congress of Paris in 1856?