Russian President Vladimir Putin has canceled a visit to Paris next week after 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 United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria.
“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 Russian president had been scheduled to inaugurate a new Russian Orthodox cathedral and visit a Russian art exhibition in the French capital on Oct. 19.
While Paris has said it is vital to keep dialogue going with Moscow and not sever relations, events in Syria have damaged their ties as the two countries support opposite sides in the conflict.
Describing Russian air strikes in Syria as “war crimes”, Hollande said it was still necessary to talk with Moscow, but only if discussions were “firm, 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 U.N. Security Council has prevented the cessation of bombings and enablement of a truce,” Hollande said at the Council of Europe.
“I’m ready to meet President Putin if we can advance peace, end the bombings and announce a truce,” he said.
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.
“The president made the decision to cancel his visit,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.
“The president noted that he is ready to visit Paris at a time convenient for Hollande. We will wait for this convenient time to come.”
Putin’s cancellation is the latest deterioration in ties between Moscow and the West after Russia vetoed a French-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria.
Growing anger over the Russia-backed onslaught on rebel-held areas of Aleppo had led Paris to reconsider whether to host Putin on October 19.
Putin was expected to meet Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in separate talks on the Syria crisis, particularly the city of Aleppo where government air strikes backed by Russian jets have pummelled rebel-held areas in the east.
“This is a very clear indication from the Russians that if the French want to talk about a ceasefire resolution, they have to sit down and negotiate with the Russians and do it on an equal basis,” Rami Khoury, senior fellow at the American University of Beirut, said.
“Hollande talked about the International Criminal Court, the ICC, holding people accountable for war crimes, and he’s talking of course about Russia and the Syrian government … The Russian president isn’t going to walk into a meeting with Hollande after Hollande said we’re going to think of sending you to the ICC.”
Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on September 22 it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was declared officially over on 19 September.
There are about 275,000 people trapped by the siege of eastern Aleppo, where civilians are suffering through daily bombing, including by bunker-buster and incendiary weapons, and through starvation, as limited supplies run out and aid convoys are blocked from the city.