Putin says Russia won’t give in to ‘blackmail’ over Syria

Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends the opening of Moscow's State Tretyakov Gallery exhibition titled, "The Romanovs and the Grimaldi. Three Centuries of History (XVII-XIX)" on Oct. 6, 2016.


By ILYA ARKHIPOV, ANDREY BIRYUKOV AND HENRY MEYER | Bloomberg | Published: October 12, 2016

MOSCOW (Tribune News Service) — President Vladimir Putin vowed that Russia won’t give in to “blackmail and pressure” over its military offensive in Syria and accused the U.S. and its allies of whipping up “anti-Russian hysteria.”

A French-proposed U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria, which demanded an immediate halt to the bombing of Aleppo, was set up to provoke Russia’s veto and worsen the situation, Putin said at a VTB investor forum in Moscow on Wednesday. By sponsoring the proposal, France has served U.S. domestic needs, Putin added.

From the breakdown in Syrian talks to U.S. charges that Russia is actively hacking political groups to undermine the Nov. 8 presidential election, Russian-U.S. ties have plummeted in recent months. White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Wednesday said Moscow is backing a “puppet government” in Syria and said Russia “has a rather sordid record when it comes to basic human rights.”

Over the past 10 days, Moscow increased its military presence in the Mediterranean and Baltic regions by deploying warships and missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads, and suspended a nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Russia on Wednesday test-fired three missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Putin on Wednesday accused the U.S. presidential candidates of using anti-Russian rhetoric to bolster their support in next month’s election, a decision which is “poisoning” relations between the two countries. At the same time, he reiterated that Russia is willing to work with any U.S. leader who is willing to cooperate with it.

The Russian leader on Tuesday canceled a visit to Paris after his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, scolded the Kremlin over its bombing campaign in Syria. Russia last week vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution proposed by France that required a stop to Russian and Syrian airstrikes in Aleppo, where about 250,000 civilians are trapped. Russia and the West have blamed each other for the breakdown of a cease-fire agreement in the Middle Eastern country, where at least 280,000 people have died since 2011.

Efforts by al-Qaida fighters and allied rebels in Aleppo to use civilians as “human shields” can’t be tolerated, and Russia will pursue its military drive to help Syria capture the eastern opposition-held neighborhoods, Putin said in an interview with French TV TF1 released by the Kremlin on Wednesday.

France proposed its resolution “to get this veto” in order “to escalate the situation and whip up anti-Russian hysteria” in the midst of the U.S. presidential campaign, Putin said. “This is a type of behavior in the international arena which is called pressure and blackmail, which Russia has never given in to and won’t.”

Russia intervened a year ago in Syria with an air campaign that reversed the course of the 5 1/2 year civil war, a conflict that helped spawn the rise of Islamic State and provoked the worst refugee crisis since World War II as millions of Syrians fled to neighboring countries and Europe. The Russian move has bolstered President Bashar Assad against opposition groups, including U.S.-backed rebels.

In an attempt at renewed diplomacy following the breakdown of a peace deal reached Sept. 9, Russia, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey and possibly Qatar will meet in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Saturday to discuss steps to promote a solution in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Lavrov and the foreign ministers of key regional partners to seek a sustained cease-fire and resumption of aid deliveries, the State Department said.

Russia has pre-emptively warned the U.S. against any strike on government forces in Syria. The latest peace deal began falling apart after the U.S.-led coalition bombed Syrian troops in a move it described as a “mistake.” Days later, a UN aid convoy was struck by what the U.S. said were either Russian or Syrian jets.

“Let’s not forget that Russia and the U.S. have a particular responsibility as the two biggest nuclear powers,” Putin said. The tensions between them are “bad for our countries and for the entire international community.”

With assistance from Irina Reznik, Anna Andrianova, Nick Wadhams and Justin Sink.

©2016 Bloomberg News
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