Vladimir Putin suspends trip to France after schedule is cleared for Syria crisis talks

‘France has a major disagreement with Russia over Syria,’ says French President Francois Hollande

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The Independent Online

Vladamir Putin has indefinitely postponed a trip to France after Paris revised his schedule so it focused on the crisis in Syria, French President Francois Hollande has said.

The claim is the latest episode in the deteriorating relationship between Moscow and the West over Russia’s support for President Bashar al-Assad and their bombardment of Aleppo.

The Russian President was expected to visit France next Tuesday, but Mr Putin suspended the trip after learning he would attend meetings to discuss Syria instead of attending Russian cultural events, Mr Hollande has claimed.

Over the weekend, Russia blocked a UN resolution for a ceasefire proposed by France and Spain. France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault then said he would ask the International Court of Justice to investigate Russia’s part in possible war crimes in Syria.

“France has a major disagreement with Russia over Syria,” Mr Hollande said on Tuesday. “And the Russian veto to the French resolution at the UN council has prevented the cessation of the bombings, as well as the proclamation of a ceasefire.”

Yet he added that for the humanitarian disaster to end, communication with Moscow was needed.

“The main victims are the civilians who live and die under the bombs,” Mr Hollande said. “That’s the reason why I consider that a dialogue with Russia is necessary. But it should be firm and open. Otherwise ... it’s a mockery.”

The Kremlin confirmed Mr Putin’s decision to cancel, but made no mention of Syria and said he was ready to come to Paris at Mr Hollande’s convenience.

Russian jets resumed heavy bombing of eastern Aleppo on Tuesday after several days of relative calm, a rebel official and the Britain-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Air strikes on the besieged part of the city killed at least eight people Tuesday, while shelling of a government-held neighbourhood in a southern Syrian city hit a school, killing at least six people, among them children, activists and state media said. 

Hospital in Aleppo bombed out of service

Before the change in agenda, Mr Putin’s visit to Paris included attending the opening of Russian cultural centre and orthodox church.

Mr Putin’s spokesperson said: “Regrettably, those events dropped out of the programme. The president decided to cancel the visit.”

Mr Peskov said Mr Putin could visit France at a later date which would be “comfortable” for Mr Hollande.

He denied that the cancelled visit reflected Moscow’s increasing diplomatic isolation over Syria.

“No, the president hasn't found himself in isolation,” Mr Peskov said, and he dismissed the claim as “absurd”.

“Russia and its president aren’t facing anything of the kind.”

In the UK, ahead of an emergency commons debate on the crisis in Aleppo, former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell compared Russia’s actions in the Syrian conflict to that of the Nazis before World War II.

Mr Mitchell said Russia has “shredded” international law by providing military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bombing campaign of rebel neighbourhoods.

“We are witnessing events which match the behaviour of the Nazi regime in Guernica in Spain,” he said.

During the debate in the commons, Conservative MP Stephen Crabbe said Russia was behaving like a “thuggish international gangster” in it's disregard for international humanitarian law.

Additional reporting by Associated Press