Russia’s Putin, US trade blows over Syria

Filed on May 31, 2012

Moscow and Washington traded fierce diplomatic blows over Syria on Thursday with US charges that Russia was pushing its ally into civil war and the Kremlin accusing the White House of being emotional.

The brisk exchange came just as President Vladimir Putin prepared to face a grilling on Friday from the leaders of Germany and France during his first tour abroad since his May 7 inauguration to a controversial third term.

Russia has made clear from the start that Putin would not be swayed by Western and Arab world anger over his refusal to back action against a Middle East regime that Moscow has held patronage over since Soviet times.

“Russia’s position is well-known. It is balanced and consistent and completely logical,” Interfax quoted Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used some of her most explicit language to date to indicate that Washington’s patience with Moscow was running thin and that urgent action at the UN Security Council on Syria was required.

The Russians “are telling me they don’t want to see a civil war. I have been telling them their policy is going to help contribute to a civil war,” she told a mainly student audience on a visit to Copenhagen.

“We have to bring the Russians on board because the dangers we face are terrible.”

The White House on Wednesday also accused Russia of being on “the wrong side of history” and dispatched the US Treasury’s financial intelligence chief to Moscow for further talks.

Russia insists that it is not supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime but respect for international law and the policy of non-intervention in internal conflicts.

That argument has found less currency with foreign powers following the slaying last weekend of 108 civilians — almost half of them children — in the Syrian town of Houla that Moscow partially blamed on both sides.

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