Putin cancels visit to France amid Syria tensions

Russian President Vladimir Putin has canceled a planned visit to France after Paris shortened the program for the trip. The development comes amid increased tensions between Russia and France over Moscow’s veto of a French UN Security Council draft resolution on Syria.

Putin was expected to arrive in Paris next week, but the visit has now been postponed, the Kremlin confirmed.

“There were some events scheduled, including the opening of a Russian cultural and religious center, [and] exhibitions. Unfortunately, those events were struck off the program, so the president decided to cancel his visit to France for now,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The Kremlin official would not comment on why France chose to change the program of Putin’s visit, saying that “this question should be addressed to the French side.”

Commenting on the cancelation of the visit, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday he was prepared to meet Putin “at any moment” to discuss Syria.

"I consider it is necessary to have dialogue with Russia, but it must be firm and frank otherwise it has no place and it is a charade. I'm ready to meet President Putin if we can make progress on peace," the French leader said during a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Earlier, French diplomatic sources told Reuters that France wanted to downgrade the planned visit and cancel all events except a working meeting with President Hollande on Syria and that Russia chose to postpone the visit instead.

This comes a day after Hollande said he was reluctant to meet Putin after Russia blocked a French-sponsored resolution at the UN Security Council, which sought to impose a no-fly zone over Aleppo, Syria.

Moscow said that the resolution would protect terrorist group Al-Nusra Front, which controls a greater portion of eastern Aleppo, under a pretext of humanitarian relief. An alternative proposal by Russia, which would seek a deal with the group to grant them safe passage out of the city and spare its civilian population, was rejected by other members of the UNSC.

French officials accused Russia and the Assad regime of committing war crimes in Syria and threatened to ask the International Criminal Court to probe the allegations. It was not immediately clear how Paris wanted to deliver on the threat, considering that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Syria.

The rising tension over Syria, as evidenced by increasingly loud rhetoric against Russia coming from the West, indicates the unresolved dispute over the war-ravaged country’s future between Moscow and Western powers, according to John Laughland, director of studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris.

“Now that Russia has become a party to the war in Syria since last year… this has aggravated the situation with the West, because not only has Russia successfully prevented Assad from falling – a year ago there was a chance that he would be overthrown – but Russia has also increased her own position on the international stage. And that, of course, is something that the Western powers do not like,” he told RT.

“In some ways we should see the Syrian conflict as a conflict between the West and Russia. Four years ago I’ve said that the real target in Syria was not Assad but Putin. And I think we can see this angle coming back again,” he added.

The cancelation of Putin’s visit may have been the reason why France rather than another nation submitted the draft resolution, which Russia was expected to veto even before it was discussed at the Security Council, independent journalist Robert Harneis told RT.

“Why should it be France? It could have been Britain. After all, Britain and France compete with each other to run after the Americans all the time. So one wonders whether it was deliberate to make it impossible for this meeting to take place,” he said.

He believes that France acted on a cue from Washington in this situation, but Putin’s not coming to Paris may actually benefit President Hollande during the upcoming election in France. After all, Putin might have touched upon France’s own misdeeds, like the overstepping of a UN mandate to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, which was used to destroy Muammar Gaddafi’s army, which was done by primarily France and Britain, Harneis said.

“It would have been very embarrassing for Hollande if Putin had come, because Putin is known for defending himself. If people attack him, he gives a straight answer. I don’t think that in the run-up to the election Holland would want an acrimonious meeting in Paris,” he explained.