PMQs: David Cameron to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in bid to break international deadlock on Syria

Putin appeared to offer some hope that Russian support for the Assad regime might not be open ended
  • @oliver_wright

David Cameron is to hold talks in Downing Street with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid evidence that his support for the Syrian regime maybe softening.

Mr Cameron will meet President Putin on Sunday ahead of the G8 conference in Northern Ireland. It will be the second time in just two months that the men have held face to face talks amid what Downing Street sources said was “intense diplomatic activity” behind the scenes on Syria.

Mr Cameron is also expected to discuss with US President Barack Obama ahead of the G8 where the issue will be on the formal agenda.

While the Foreign Office is still pessimistic about the possibility of peace talks taking place in the near future they hope that pressure from Russia could force Syrian President Bashar al Assad to the table.

Earlier this week Mr Putin appeared to offer some hope that Russian support for the Assad regime might not be open ended.

Speaking during a visit to the Kremlin-funded English Language TV Channel RT he said the Russians were “not advocates for the current government and the current president."

He added that the Assad regime had failed to make the changes it needed to in the light of protests which soon escalated into the current conflict.

"The country was ripe for serious changes, and the leadership should have felt that in time and started making changes. Then what is happening would not have happened," he said.

Mr Putin added that Russia was concerned for the future of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria and that harmony must come from agreements among the factions.

"Not the other way around - kick everybody out and then plunge the whole country into chaos.”

A Foreign Office source said that Mr Putin’s comments were significant.

“Putin does not say things like that by accident,” they said.

“This is an interesting piece of public pressure on the Assad regime.”

In the House of Commons Mr Cameron said he would be using the meeting and the G8 to try and build an international consensus on Syria. 

“We should use the G8 to try and bring pressure on all sides to bring about what we all want, which is a peace conference, a peace process and a move towards a transitional government in Syria,” he said.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Mr Cameron would be seeking to continue the dialogue he opened with Mr Putin when they met last month in Sochi.

“I don't think it is new to say that we have differences with the Russians with regard to Syria," the spokesman said.

“However we want to keep working on how we can crank up the pressure here. That is what the meeting on Sunday is very much about. It is about cranking up the pressure on all sides in the conflict in Syria.”

Foreign Secretary William Hague, meanwhile, was in Washington for talks on the Syrian conflict with US secretary of state John Kerry.