Saturday

22nd Feb 2020

Putin warns US, France against Syria action

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has warned against Western strikes on Syria on the eve of the G20 summit in St Petersburg on Thursday (5 September).

Speaking in an interview with the Associated Press and the Channel 1 state broadcaster on Wednesday, he compared Syria to the Iraq war in 2003, which was based on false intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, and hinted he will deliver modern anti-air defences to the region.

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  • Putin (r) briefs press ahead of the G20 summit on Thursday (Photo: kremlin.ru)

He said the Syria intelligence published so far by the US, the UK and France amounts to "some rumours and information obtained by special services through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations and things like that."

He added that a strike must be authorised by the UN Security Council, where he has a veto, on the basis of hard information, such as "a deep and specific probe containing evidence that would be obvious and prove beyond doubt who did it and what means were used."

Looking back on Iraq, he noted: "All these arguments turned out to be untenable, but they were used to launch a military action, which many in the US called a mistake. Did we forget about that?"

He said if Western powers go ahead, "we [Russia] shall think how we should act in the future, in particular regarding supplies of … sensitive weapons to certain regions of the world."

He noted Russia has not completed delivery of modern S-300 anti-air missile systems to Syria.

But his remarks indicate he is prepared to honour a previous S-300 contract to Iran, Syria's ally, and Israel's main adversary in the region.

Putin's remarks come as US senators also on Tuesday agreed a draft resolution authorising 90 days' worth of strikes with no US troops on the ground.

The agreement came after US President Barack Obama at a meeting with opposition Republican congressmen at the White House indicated that his ultimate goal in Syria is regime change.

"It gives us the ability to degrade [Syrian leader] al-Assad’s capabilities when it comes to chemical weapons. It also fits into a broader strategy that we have to make sure that we can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic and economic and political pressure required so that ultimately we have a transition," he told press after the event.

Obama on Wednesday flew to Sweden en route to the G20 event, where the leaders of the world's richest nations will try to reach a compromise on the Syria crisis.

But for her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told German media on Tuesday she thinks it is "unlikely" they will see eye to eye.

EU foreign ministers will also meet in Vilnius on Friday to discuss Syria.

The bloc's foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, has invited US secretary of state John Kerry to the event, but he has not yet said if he will come.

The EU itself is also divided on Syria.

Merkel has said she backs strikes, but that German forces will not take part. France has said it backs the US, while also ruling out ground troops. But Italy says any strike without UN approval would be illegal.

Meanwhile, the rejection of joint UK-US strikes by British MPs last week is causing political problems for French leader Francois Hollande.

The French President does not need a parliament vote to go to war.

But a CSA poll on Tuesday showed that 74 percent of French people believe he should call one.

The French parliament will debate Syria on Wednesday, with Hollande's minister for parliamentary relations, Alain Vidalies, and his PM, Jean-Marc Ayrault, saying a vote “is not a taboo subject."

One centre-right opposition MP, Eric Woerth, on Tuesday warned against letting the US "decide for the French people."

Alain Juppe, a former centre-right PM, said that if Hollande goes ahead it “would be the first time … that France intervened without a green light from the United Nations."

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