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Putin dismisses 'war crimes rhetoric' ahead of Syria talks

Putin has said that civilian casualties in Syria are a 'sad reality' of war [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 October, 2016

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Russia remains defiant over its bombing of Aleppo days before 'peace talks' with the US in Lausanne.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has disregarded suggestions that his country could face war crimes charges for its airstrikes in Syria, telling French reporters that the accusations were mere "rhetoric".

This follows the cancellation of a trip to Paris by Putin just days earlier, after French President Francois Hollande described Russia's bombardment of Aleppo as a "war crime".

"Its political rhetoric that does not mean much and does not take into account the realities in Syria," Putin told France's TF1 TV.

"I am deeply convinced that it is our Western partners, first and foremost of course the United States, who are responsible for the situation."

The Russian leader also seemed to shrug off responsibility for civilian casualties caused by airstrikes in Aleppo.

"We can't allow terrorists to use people as human shields and blackmail the entire world," continue, adding that civilian deaths are a "sad reality of war".

Pressure mounts on Moscow

While Russia has stubbornly defended its actions in Syria, Western politicians have grown in confidence in alleging that Russia may be culpable of war crimes.

On Tuesday, British MPs gathered in Westminster for an emergency debate on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo. Calls for Russian actions to be investigated resounded throughout the UK's House of Commons.

"If Russia continues in its current path then I think that great country is in danger of becoming a pariah nation," UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told parliament, while also calling for anti-war groups to picket Russia's embassy in London. 

He also said that "all the available evidence therefore points to a Russian responsibility for the atrocity," regarding the attack on a UN-led aid convoy in September. The attack killed 20 aid workers and destroyed 18 of the convoy's 31 trucks.

These comments preceded those made by France's president.

"These are people who today are the victims of war crimes," Hollande said earlier this week, referring to people affected by Russia's strikes on Aleppo.

"Those that commit these acts will have to face up to their responsibility, including in the ICC [International Criminal Court]."

While levelling heavy criticism at Moscow, however, Hollande has also expressed doubt in the United States' ability to achieve peace is Syria alone.

"The US has enough power to get money, but not enough – to establish peace [in Syria]," he told L'Obs magazine on Wednesday.

The French leader also expressed regret that military intervention in Syria was prevented last year by a Russian proposal to destroy Damascus' chemical weapons.

"August 2013 will remain a key date in the history of this conflict. France was ready to hit the Syrian regime, which had crossed a red line," he said.

Washington and Moscow cut off bilateral Syria negotiations nine days ago [AFP]

Back to negotiations

On Saturday foreign ministers will meet in Switzerland in another attempt to end Syria's crisis. The US, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are expected to be in attendance at the talks.

According to the US State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss a "multilateral approach" to resolving the conflict, "including a sustained cessation of violence and the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries."

Russia and the US ended bilateral negotiations over Syria nine days ago amid heated disagreement over responsibility for the collapse of the recent truce.

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