Vladimir Putin to postpone Syria talks in Paris

  • 12/10/2016
Vladimir Putin (Reuters)
Vladimir Putin (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not come to Paris next week after declining to meet President Francois Hollande only for talks on Syria, a source in Mr Hollande's office says.

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

Their growing anger at events in the rebel-held areas of Aleppo had led them to reconsider whether to host Mr Putin on October 19.

"There were contacts between the Kremlin and the Elysee this morning to offer to Mr Putin a working visit on Syria, but excluding all other events that President Hollande could have taken part in," the source said.

"In response to this proposal, Russia has just indicated that it wants to postpone the visit planned on Oct. 19."

The Russian leader was scheduled to inaugurate a new Russian Orthodox cathedral and visit a Russian art exhibition in the French capital.

While France has said it is vital to keep dialogue going with Moscow and not cut ties, events in Syria have damaged their relations with the two parties supporting opposite sides in the conflict.

France's foreign minister said on Monday his diplomats were working 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 in eastern Aleppo.

Diplomats have also said Paris was leading discussions on whether to impose new European Union sanctions on Russia specifically over Syria, where Moscow backs President Bashar al-Assad in the five-year-old war.

Later French President Francois Hollande said it was vital to continue talking to Russia despite major differences with Moscow on Syria, but there was no point discussing unless talks were "frank and firm".

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

"I consider it is necessary to have dialogue with Russia, but it must be firm and frank otherwise it has no place and it is a charade. I'm ready to meet President Putin if we can make progress on peace."

Mr Putin's trip to Paris envisaged the opening of a Russian cultural centre and an exhibition, but the French side had revised the program, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"Regrettably, those events dropped out of the program," Peskov said, saying it's up to the French side to explain the reason. "The president decided to cancel the visit."

Mr Putin and Mr Hollande were to inaugurate a new Orthodox church next to the Eiffel Tower along with a cultural centre.

Mr Peskov said Putin could visit France at a later date which would be "comfortable" for Mr Hollande.

He denied that the cancellation of Mr Putin's visit to France reflected a growing international isolation of Moscow over its actions in Syria, where Russian warplanes have supported the Syrian army offensive on Aleppo.

"No, the president hasn't found himself in isolation,'' Mr Peskov said, dismissing the claim as "absurd."