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?”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor