EU to press Putin on Syria at summit

President Putin greets Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy in St Petersburg President Putin, left, will hold talks with Jose Manuel Barroso, centre, and Herman Van Rompuy

EU officials are expected to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to take a stronger line on the crisis in Syria during a summit in St Petersburg.

EU member states want Russia to put pressure on its ally to withdraw heavy weapons from cities and comply fully with UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.

Russia and China are also resisting US and European calls to condemn President Bashar al-Assad and seek his removal.

On Sunday, Mr Assad denied his forces had any role in the Houla massacre.

In a televised address, President Assad told parliament the killing of more than 108 people in their homes, including 49 children, was an "ugly crime" that even "monsters" would not carry out.

Witnesses have blamed pro-government militiamen for the massacre, which has triggered international condemnation and led to several countries expelling Syrian diplomats in protest.

Mr Assad said the only way to resolve the crisis was through political dialogue, and that "foreign meddling" was to blame for Syria's divisions.

Start Quote

Russia's role is crucial for the success of Annan's plan”

End Quote Catherine Ashton EU foreign policy chief

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are among those attending Monday's summit.

On Sunday, Mr Putin invited the EU leaders for dinner ahead of the talks at a lavish estate on the outskirts of the city.

European diplomats regard the meeting as a chance to renew ties with Mr Putin since his return to the presidency earlier this month.

The leaders are also expected to discuss trade and Iran's controversial nuclear programme. Russia will also be looking to speed up moves towards visa free travel in Europe.

But correspondents say Syria is likely to dominate the agenda.

Political transition

"We need to make sure that Russia is using fully its leverage in convincing the [Assad] regime to implement [the peace plan]," an EU official quoted by the Reuters news agency said.

"The Russian side has certainly not been very helpful in finding solutions in terms of a political way out."

President Bashar al-Assad addresses parliament in Damascus President Assad blamed outside forces for causing divisions in his country

Moscow insists it is not protecting Mr Assad but says his removal cannot be a precondition for political dialogue.

Baroness Ashton, who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before Sunday's dinner, said in a statement: "Russia's role is crucial for the success of Annan's plan."

She said the EU wanted to "work closely with Russia to find a way to end the violence".

The statement added that Baroness Ashton had spoken to Mr Annan by telephone on Sunday and they had agreed that the crisis was at "a critical point".

Analysts say pressure is growing on Moscow to concede that the initiative is stalled and to promote a compromise in which President Assad stands down to allow a transition of power.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that she had "made it very clear" to Mr Lavrov in a telephone conversation that the focus was shifting to a political transition.

"Assad's departure does not have to be a precondition, but it should be an outcome so the people of Syria have a chance to express themselves," she said during a visit to Stockholm.

The BBC's Steven Rosenberg in Moscow says that although the summit is not expected to produce any major breakthrough in relations between Russia and the EU, it is still important.

EU leaders will be able to reacquaint themselves with Vladimir Putin and it is also a chance to gauge what kind of relationship Moscow and Brussels are likely to have during his six-year presidency, our correspondent adds.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    When this story broke you the BBC had the next story "a family of fifteen in Afghanistan have been killed by mistake by a drone" NAW who is committing the murders Syria or NATO both, Nato are responsible for putting bombs and rockets into the houses of Wiman and children too. This is just a smoke screen for the politicians to get away from the fraud and the theft of our money in taxis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    A few months ago, many asked: "Why are we in Libya, while there are atrocities in Syria?" Now: "Why are we in Syria when there are protests in Bahrain?" The desire to point out hypocrisy amongst Western politicians has obscured the fact that Assad is using the state machinery to murder, and that he must stop. Meekly encouraging the Syrians to hold more peace marches is unlikely to change his mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    128.Jeff Pardun ; Are you insinuating that the E.U. is a democratic body?
    I would beg to differ.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    The west has a recent track record of getting involved in unnecessary wars,Putin has a track record of telling the west they should show restraint.Who should we trust? What sort of government would take over Syria? Who exactly are these "opposition activists" and would Syria become a more tolerant peaceful country if Assad stepped down and allowed them to take over?

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    @124, If something goes seriously wrong in a organisation, the head of that organisation takes blame and usually resigns, now so far Mr Assad did not apologise once, nor did he acknowledge that He is at least part of the problem if not the whole problem. Still, you r questioning BBC news that were videoed, confirmed by UN observers, and local witnesses, Local rebel villagers r to blame NOT Assad??

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.


    My last comment on this HYS.

    If you don't resist dictators - whereever they are - you will soon be under the heel of one.


    I take it you're referring to Barrosso.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    129.peter petros; Good idea we should coerce China to join the E.U. as well, they would blend in so well with the autocrats in Brussels. Pah

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    128 Jeff.

    Hmm I didn't realise we now lived in a Republic?

    Anyway, not sure the elected representatives voted for von rumpoy and ashton either. Then Barosso had no competition, so that was hardly democracy in action either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Russia is playing a clever game, they're ensuring Assad is skint before they back his removal.

    Let's look at the syrian situation form another angle, let's say there are armed militia walking the streets, wishing to bring down the British government, does DC sit on his hands or does he deploy the armed forces to deal with the problem? We don't have evidence to say who is slaughtering innocents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    The west needs to show Syria that we won't allow crimes against humanity especially on our borders but anywhere. I say the west I mean the decent powers of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    the only way for Putin to make changes i personally believe is to get Russia to join the EU everybody gets to benefit out a deal like that. the Europians by getting acces to the huge resourses the Russians have and Europe to help modernise the Russians in all levels

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    On a side note that really has nothing to do with the situation and article...
    To all the nay-sayers about the EU being unelected....
    Understand how a Republic works? You elect representatives in your locality that then vote to choose EU representation. They're not elected directly, but by the elected representatives to the EU. Direct Democracy, as in Switzerland, wouldn't work over 17 nations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    It's as if a veil is being lifted by Putin. He has forced the world to look more closely at Syria and ask searching questions before rushing to more war. Frankly, that should have been the position of William Haigh and his boss. Syria is not Libya and the consequences of any military misadventure will be profound for the world. It's critical that cool heads let Assad sort out his civil crisis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    I expect PutinTakes as much notice of unelected EU officials as I do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Russia has a Naval Base at Tartus in Syria.
    This has become increasingly important since the closure of naval bases in Egypt.
    As long as Russia wants a Naval presence in the Western Mediterranean she will be nice to whoever controls the port.
    Don't you just love Diplomacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    i hope russia has enough balls to say no to the nasty american terror org and their next war.
    its clear they want to m8urder more innocent victims just by seeing how the BBC are liying about everything including when there is no proof abotu who is murding innocents and they just claim its all government while ignoring the fact their coverage encourages rebels to murder more people

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    112.CommanderMethos; Where foreign policy is agreed between EU member states, the High Representative can speak for the EU in that area, such as negotiating on behalf of the member states []
    Sorry to use wikipedia but I am a busy man and was getting a little frustrated by your lack of actual understanding of the roles of these 3 autocrats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Unelected eurocrats Barosso, Von Rompuy and Ashton pop over to St Petersburg to meet the dubiously-elected Putin to discuss the situation in the country of another dubiously-elected leader on another continent. Forget Syria, perhaps the BBC should be concentrating on the shaky foundations of European "democracy" represented by this story?

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    @117 why do politicians do anything becuase they think they can play the media to their advantage. as for the power their is nothing disconcerting about it. they were put into office by the elected individuals just like anyone who occupies high office. the only exception to that is a head of state of which their is not one for the eu.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    "Why does the West keep trying to impose democracy on peoples who do not want it ? "

    Oh so they were asked were they? Do you a say in how your country is run? Did thay all say no? Or have the historically warlike Alawite forced their rule on the Sunni majority. Which do you think?


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