28th Sep 2023

Russia and UK collide on Syria ahead of G8

  • Putin (l) referred to a video showing a Syrian rebel cutting out and biting into the heart of a dead soldier (Photo: The Prime Minister's Office)

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has rebuked EU countries over plans to give weapons to human-heart-eating radicals in Syria.

Speaking at a press event in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday (16 June), Putin said: "I believe you will not deny the fact one hardly should back those who kill their enemies and, you know, eat their organs and all that is filmed and shot. Do we want to support these people? Do we want to supply arms to these people?"

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He added: "It has hardly any relation to the communitarian and cultural values that Europe has been professing for centuries."

On Russia's own arms deliveries to the Syrian regime, he noted: "Russia supplies arms to the legitimate government of Syria in full compliance with the norms of international law. We are not breaching anything."

Putin was referring to a video circulated on the Internet in May showing Abu Sakar, a commander of the rebel Farouq Brigade, cutting out and biting into the heart of a dead soldier.

Amid bewildering propaganda in the two-year-long war, leading NGOs, such as the US-based Human Rights Watch, have said the clip is authentic.

Sakar himself also admitted he did it to Western media.

Putin spoke after Britain and France last month engineered the lifting of an EU arms embargo on Syria.

The EU states have promised not to ship weapons unless peace talks - expected in Geneva in August or September - fail.

But the US last week said it will give rebels "military support" now because US intelligence has evidence that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is using chemical weapons.

Cameron on Sunday said his arms gambit is designed to help the moderate wing of the opposition.

He noted: "We, I believe rightly, changed the terms of the EU arms embargo, because it was almost as if it was saying there was some sort of equivalence between al-Assad on the one hand and the official Syrian opposition on the other, and I don't believe there is."

He added: "The Syrian opposition have committed to a democratic, pluralistic Syria that will respect minorities, including Christians."

He also tried to salvage prospects of a united diplomatic effort to make the Syria peace talks happen.

"We [Russia and the UK] both see a humanitarian catastrophe; we both see the dangers of instability and extremism; we both want to see a peace conference and a transition," he told press alongside the Russian leader.

But he did little to quell fears of a worst-case scenario in the Middle East: a proxy war between Iran and Russia on one side, EU countries and the US on the other side and a third element of Gulf Arab states arming Sunni Muslim extremists.

"I sincerely hope that discussions at G8 meeting can bridge widening gap on Syria policy. No one should wish for arms race and proxy war," Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt Tweeted on Monday morning, referring to today's meeting of the G8 club of leading nations in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland.

For his part, Canadian Prime Minister David Harper poured fuel on the fire of Western-Russian division.

He told press on Sunday that: "Putin and his government are supporting the thugs of the Assad regime for their own reasons that I do not think are justifiable."

He added "we're not going to get a common position with him at the G8" on Syria.

He also voiced long-standing feeling in some Western capitals that Russia's membership in the G8 - whose other members are like-minded liberal democracies Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US - is an anomaly.

"I don't think we should fool ourselves. This is G7 plus one. OK, let's be blunt. That's what this is: G7 plus one," he said.

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