Russian President Vladimir Putin has canceled a planned visit to France next week, the Kremlin said Tuesday, in an apparent snub to French President Francois Hollande, who suggested Moscow was guilty of war crimes in Syria.
Tensions have been rumbling between the two leaders since the weekend, when Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution aimed at ending Syrian regime airstrikes on Aleppo and allowing humanitarian aid into the city. France and Spain had put forward the resolution.
“The president has made a decision to cancel this visit (to Paris),” Peskov told Russian state-run news agency TASS.
Putin was scheduled to attend events linked to the opening of a Russian religious and cultural center, but the trip was canceled because the events “fell out of the program.”
But a French government spokesperson told CNN that Putin canceled because he did not agree with Hollande’s request that the meeting be dedicated to Syria.
Hollande had earlier suggested to French TV station TF1 that he was mulling whether to cancel the meeting with Putin, saying that those behind the bombardment of Aleppo — alluding to Syria and Russia — had committed “war crimes” in the Syrian city and should be held accountable at the International Criminal Court.
Putin was scheduled to visit Paris on October 19.
Debating whether to meet Putin, Hollande had told TF1: “I have asked myself that question: Is it useful? Is it necessary? Could we do something that pushes him as well and stop what they’re doing with the Syrian regime — that is to say the help they are providing to the Syrian regime, which sends bombs to the population of Aleppo?
“If I receive him, I would tell him that it is unacceptable, that it is bad even for the image of Russia. What I tell them, is that these populations are populations that are today victims of war crimes and those who commit those acts will have to pay for their responsibility in front of the International Criminal Court.”
Russia has carried out airstrikes in Syria since September 2015 in coordination with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Moscow says it is targeting militant groups, but the United States is arming some of those same groups to fight the Assad government, essentially pitting the Cold War enemies against each other.
Hospital bombings worsen Aleppo’s humanitarian crisis 06:03
Fresh strikes on Aleppo
After six days of relative calm in Aleppo, renewed airstrikes on rebel-held areas killed at least 16 people on Tuesday, according to activists and residents.
Around 20 airstrikes, including cluster munitions and bunker-busting bombs, hit seven neighborhoods in the besieged eastern parts of the city, according to an activist with the Aleppo Media Center (AMC).
The heaviest strikes occurred in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr, with several missiles landing near a market and a school, according to residents and activists.
Russia’s UN veto on the Aleppo resolution Saturday had been widely expected.
Hollande’s war crimes comments echo those of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said airstrikes by Syrian forces with Russian support should be investigated.
“Russia and the regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals and medical facilities, and children and women. These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes,” Kerry said.
In July, regime forces encircled rebel-held parts of Aleppo, mostly in the city’s east, creating a stranglehold that cut the population off from basic food, water, medical and fuel supplies.
The Syrian regime has pounded rebel-held Aleppo with airstrikes since July, but it scaled back last week as it began a ground offensive to take back parts of the city.
It has been accused of using chemical weapons, such as chlorine gas, on the population there, an allegation that Syria and Russia deny.
Rebels have held parts of eastern Aleppo since 2012.