Putin, US trade blows over ‘backing’ to Syria
MOSCOW MOSCOW and Washington traded fierce diplomatic blows over Syria on Thursday with US charges that Russia was pushing its ally into civil war and the Kremlin accusing the White House of being emotional.
The brisk exchange came as President Vladimir Putin prepared to face a grilling on Friday from the leaders of Germany and France during his first tour abroad since his May 7 inauguration to a controversial third term.
Russia has made it clear from the start that Putin will not be swayed by Western and Arab world anger over his refusal to back action against a Middle East regime that Moscow has held patronage over since Soviet times.
“Russia’s position is wellknown.
It is balanced and consistent and completely logical,” Interfax quoted Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
“So it is hardly appropriate to talk about this position changing under someone’s pressure.” But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used some of her most explicit language to date to indicate that Washington’s patience with Moscow was running thin because of its refusal to commit to tougher UN Security Council measures.
The Russians “are telling me they don’t want to see a civil war. I have been telling them their policy is going to help contribute to a civil war,” she told a mainly student audience on a visit to Copenhagen.
“We have to bring the Russians on board because the dangers we face are terrible.
We know it actually could get much worse than it is.” Russia insists that it is not supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime but respect for international law and the policy of non-intervention in internal conflicts.
That argument has found less currency with foreign powers following the slaughter last weekend of 108 civilians — almost half of them children — in the Syrian town of Houla that Moscow partially blamed on both sides.
Peskov said Russia’s refusal to back further action against Assad after the Houla massacre and other attacks on civilians was based on an approach “completely free of emotions, which are hardly appropriate here.” But Putin is still expected to face tough questions from both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande during a three-nation swing starting on Thursday in Belarus — an authoritarian ally he chose as his first foreign destination as head of state.
Merkel nevertheless struck a cordial tone on the eve of Putin’s arrival by noting that “Russia has cooperated constructively in the UN Security Council.” “There were always times when we said ‘we want to go further’ but I think that we have to a certain extent common ground when it’s a question of ensuring human rights and finally ending these terrible human rights violations,” she said.
Hollande has upset Russia by refusing to rule out foreign military intervention, as long as it is carried out with UN backing, to stamp out nearly 15 months of fighting, which observers believe has claimed some 13,000 lives.
The Kremlin took the unusual step on Thursday of announcing that Putin had staged a closed session of his powerful Security Council devoted specifically to Russia’s response to the crisis before leaving for his foreign tour.