G8 summit begins: Vladimir Putin accuses David Cameron of betraying humanitarian values by supporting Syrian rebels

Russian President says his country will continue to arm the 'legitimate government' in Syria as Cameron's Coalition allies warn against involving Britain in the conflict

The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, rounded on Britain on Sunday, accusing David Cameron of betraying humanitarian values by supporting Syrian rebels with “blood on their hands”.

In harsh and undiplomatic language, Mr Putin accused the UK and other Western powers of attempting to arm rebels who “kill their enemies and eat their organs”. He insisted that Russia would continue to arm what he said was the recognised “legitimate government” in Syria and called on other countries to respect the same rules.

Mr Putin’s comments, ahead of Monday’s G8 summit in Northern Ireland, suggest that earlier British hopes of a softening of Russia’s position on Syria were misplaced. After around an hour of bilateral talks with David Cameron in Downing Street, Mr Putin’s spokesman told The Independent that the two sides remained as far apart as ever.

“There are very serious disagreements in terms of who is guilty and who is to blame,” he said. Asked what the impact of the American decision to arm Syrian rebels would be on potential peace talks, he added: “It makes it harder.”

On Monday, Foreign Secretary William Hague backed Mr Cameron's assessment, saying that the UK had to save the Syrian rebels from being "exterminated." But elsewhere in the Tory Party, London Mayor Boris Johnson warned that there could be no guarantee that weapons sent to moderate rebels wouldn't end up in the hands of "odious, twisted, hate-filled thugs."

In a press conference after the talks yesterday, Mr Cameron admitted that “President Putin and I have our disagreements on some of the issues”, but insisted the G8 could bring “new momentum and leadership” to start negotiations in Syria.

“What I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome differences if we recognise that we share some fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian people choose who governs them and to take the fight to the extremists,” he said.

“If we leave Syria to be fought over between a murderous dictator and violent extremists we will all pay the price,” he added.

But when Mr Putin was asked by British journalists about comments by Mr Cameron last year – that those supporting President Assad had the blood of Syrian children on their hands – he reacted angrily. He said: “One does not need to support people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras. Are these the people you want to support?

“Is it them you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to humanitarian values that have been preached in Europe for hundreds of years.”

Mr Putin was referring to video footage on the internet of one rebel fighter eating what appeared to be the heart of a government soldier.

Downing Street sources said the talks had gone better than the press conference suggested.

Mr Cameron denied that Britain wanted to arm extremists within the Syrian opposition and defended the lifting of the EU arms embargo on supplying weapons to the rebels.

“We, rightly, changed the terms of the EU arms embargo because it was almost saying there was some sort of equivalence between Assad on the one hand and the official Syrian opposition on the other,” he said.

“The Syrian opposition have committed to a democratic, pluralistic Syria that will respect minorities, including Christians.”

In an interview with the BBC last night, Mr Cameron went further and said that Western powers needed to arm the rebels precisely to prevent the opposition being dominated by extremists.

“If we don’t work with the Syrian opposition then we shouldn’t be surprised when the only parts of the Syrian opposition that are proving effective are the most extreme and the most dangerous,” he said.

“I want to avoid that. One of the things I hope I will be able to agree with President Putin – although we come at this from a different angle – is that we’ll all be better off if we can expel al-Qa’ida extremists from Syria.”

But ahead of Monday’s G8 summit, Mr Cameron appears increasingly isolated domestically over his enthusiasm for greater British involvement in Syria.

At least five cabinet ministers have expressed their private opposition to the plan, while a significant number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs have indicated that they would be prepared to vote against the Government if it is put to a vote in the House of Commons.

Nick Clegg stressed on Sunday that no UK decision on arming the rebels appeared imminent. The Deputy Prime Minister told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “At this point we’re not providing arms. If we wanted to, we would do it. We clearly don’t think it is the right thing to do now or else we would have decided to do it.”

Describing the provision of non-lethal equipment, which is the current strategy, Mr Clegg insisted it was possible for the UK to take a different position from that of the Americans.

“We need to work in concert with our allies but we do not need to do the identical thing,” he said.

Other senior figures called on Mr Cameron to stay out of the conflict. The Conservative MP Julian Lewis warned against Britain getting involved in the “snakepit” of the Syrian conflict, and predicted the Prime Minister would struggle to get MPs to agree to arm the rebels.

“I have little doubt that the Prime Minister would struggle to get this approved by Parliament because so many of us think it’s not in the British national interest to get involved with this snakepit,” he said.

The former head of the Army, Lord Dannatt, also cautioned that supplying arms to the Syrian opposition could turn into a “much larger intervention”.

He said: “I’m very much in the camp of those who would not wish to be involved and intervene in any shape or form.

“Goodness, if we’ve learned anything in the last few years, it is that we don’t get involved in another intervention without having a very clear idea of what we’re going to do, who we’re going to help, what the plan is, and what the exit strategy is. Surely we’ve not all forgotten those lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan so quickly?”

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tulisa as a judge on the X Factor in 2012
tvLouis Walsh confirms star's return
Life and Style
fashionClothes shop opens on Bill Clinton Boulevard in Pristina
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone