Friday 20 October 2017

Putin pulls out of trip to Paris as Hollande gets tough

Growing anger over a Russian- backed Syrian government onslaught against rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo had led Hollande to reconsider whether to host Putin on October 19. Photo: Getty Images
Growing anger over a Russian- backed Syrian government onslaught against rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo had led Hollande to reconsider whether to host Putin on October 19. Photo: Getty Images

Gilbert Reilhac

Russian President Vladimir Putin has cancelled a visit to Paris next week after French President Francois Hollande said he would see him only for talks on Syria - the latest episode in deteriorating relations between Moscow and the West.

French officials have been grappling for ways to put new pressure on Russia after Moscow vetoed a French-drafted UN resolution on Syria.

Growing anger over a Russian-backed Syrian government onslaught against rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo had led Hollande to reconsider whether to host Putin on October 19.

"I made it known to Mr Putin that if he came to Paris, I would not accompany him to any ceremonies, but that I was ready to continue the dialogue on Syria. He decided to postpone the visit," Hollande said at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The Kremlin confirmed Putin's decision, but made no mention of Syria and said he was ready to come to Paris at Hollande's convenience.

Describing Russian air strikes in Syria as "war crimes", Hollande said it was necessary to talk with Moscow, but only if discussions were "frank", otherwise it would be a "charade".

"With Russia, France has a major disagreement on Syria and the Russian veto of the French resolution at the UN Security Council has prevented the cessation of bombings and enablement of a truce," Hollande said.

"I'm ready to meet President Putin if we can advance peace, end the bombings and announce a truce," he said.

France's foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said diplomats were trying to find a way for the International Criminal Court's prosecutor to launch an investigation into war crimes it says have been committed by Syrian and Russian forces.

Diplomats said Paris is leading discussions on whether to impose new European Union sanctions on Russia specifically over Syria, where Moscow backs President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war.

Irish Independent

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