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 219.

    Has Rompey not got enough to do sorting out Europe's problems without meddling in international affairs? I would prefer to leave this to our democratically elected leaders than someone who thinks they are in charge of a super state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Sad to say, but President Putin has more moral and political authority than all these hand-wringing unelected EU numpties put together, and more than all those western leaders who think bombing Syria into the stone age is the best way of bringing about peace and stability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    "Syria has an arsenal of ground to air missiles."

    So did Saddam's Iraq. Took less than 24 hours to take them all out.

    Ditto re Qaddafi's Libya.

    And Milosevic's Serbia.

    [all of their SAMs were Russian made, btw.]

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Good to see that the supporters of the MIC's trawl eastwards are in the house, with the ad hominem tactics.

    I for one am not pro Assad or any of his ilk. I can however see the game that is being played out

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Any regime capable of butchering it's own citizens and then blaming it on "outside forces", would probably have enough resources to post a few idiotic comments on the BBC website in support of it's actions.
    What I can't tell is if it's half a dozen students or just one ape with half a dozen log ins.
    The similarity of the more crazed threads suggests it to be the embroidery of just one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    "On Sunday, President Assad told parliament that Syria was facing not an internal crisis but an external war, waged against it because of its support for resistance to Israel."

    So now we finally know the truth. It was Zionist Vth Column which instigated protests against homicidal Assad regime.

    And those who thought Sunni majority had enough of opression by the Alawite clan - were wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    One thing is for certain, even if the UN gave the mandate for military intervention, no countries military forces could get 'boots on the ground' because they would not be able to achieve air superiority. Syria has an arsenal of ground to air missiles..

    That is one of the main reasons many countries are hiding behind Russia and China's refusal to sanction any intervention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Every time Assad speaks his body language and facial expressions are in complete conflict with what he says. He is a crazy person and Russia and China supporting him shows how neither country has the moral integrity to backup their veto power. Why would so many Syrian army choose to join the resistance if this was all caused by the west.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    @warren 208. Yes the MIC is a major force. Little surprise that the big players in the MIC are also the big players in the banking and pharma spheres. Never underestimate the role that the Zionists have though. Just look at how many 'friends of Israel' are in the various houses of government in the US and UK for example. It's all planned

  • Comment number 210.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    West/Israeli aligned Agent provocateurs have been and are running rife throughout the middle east. Just as they are sent in to the protest movements in the west. Question is, who stands to gain from stirring up trouble???

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Again, let's all hope that Vladimir Putin doesn't give in to the EU. These rubber-stamp "allies" of ours are only working at the behest of Washington D.C. When was the last time that any of these rubber-stamp "allies" did anything on their own? The M.I.C. in Washington seems to control everything these days!

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    175.anti-idiot: I believe you have incorrectly written your name; should it not read Aunty Idiot?
    Your belief that You Tube was any more reliable than The Sun prompted my inquiry!

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    Whoever or whatever made us, is paying for making us so unique.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Hague can barely contain his eagerness to bomb another poor country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    It's nice to see that many see through this. PNAC declared it's intent long before 911. They've been ticking their list ever since. Syria is just one of them. Others have been 'fixed', now it's Syria, then Iran, then....

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    This exercise, by the EU, is wasting everyone's time, Putin has a long term strategy for retaining his / Russia's influence in the Middle East. Syria is the only country that he can actually excert that influence so he is going to protect the Assad regime up to the very last minute. I think all the EU and other countries know this and are only going through the motions. Nothing will change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Gironaut I would love to see you infront of him, there would be only one Master and for sure not you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Putin has warned against Western interference. He says integration among former Soviet Republics will be his priority & made Belarus his first foreign destination. He leaves for Uzbekistan shortly after the summit.
    (Agreement: MEPs have expressed broad consensus in favour of a European Financial Transaction Tax, during a debate in the European Parliament.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Will never understand how President Putin didn't win an Oscar for his performance as Nobby the House elf in the Harry Potter films.
    OK it's mostly done by CGI but what a tremendously good sport to go along with it just to make Millions of kids happy.
    Had always thought he was taller though.


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