MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday canceled a visit to Paris after the French leader called the recent bombings of the Syrian city of Aleppo a “war crime” and questioned publicly whether it made sense to meet with Putin at all.
The decision to call off next week’s trip underscores the increasing divides between the West and Russia over Moscow’s military aid to Syria’s government in the country’s more than five-year conflict.
French officials have said that they want the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor to open a war crimes investigation of Russia and Syria’s airstrikes in Aleppo, which have become a byword for the grave humanitarian crisis unleashed by the Syrian civil war.
Russia says it is targeting only terrorists in Aleppo, and has accused the West of using so-called terrorist groups to seek the downfall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key Russian ally. The attacks on Aleppo expanded sharply late last month after the collapse of a cease-fire plan brokered by Russia and the United States.
The Kremlin confirmed that an Oct. 18 visit to Paris had been canceled, ostensibly because the opening of a Russian cultural and spiritual center had been delayed. But Dmitri Peskov, the president’s spokesman, noted that “Putin said that he would be ready to visit Paris when it was convenient” for French President François Hollande.
“We will wait for this convenient time to come,” he added.
The canceled visit is the latest diplomatic breakdown between Russia and the West over Syria.
The United States last week halted diplomatic talks with Russia because of the Aleppo bombing, saying Russia had “failed to live up to its own commitments.” Russia on Saturday blocked a French–sponsored U.N. Security Council resolution that would have imposed a no-fly zone in Syria. A Russian counter-proposal, also vetoed, would not have halted airstrikes in Aleppo.
Hollande on Sunday questioned whether he should receive Putin.
“I asked myself the question: Is it useful? Is it necessary? Can it be a way of exerting pressure? Can we get him to stop what he is doing with the Syrian regime?” he said during an interview on France’s TMC television channel.
He said he would tell Putin that the bombing of Aleppo is “unacceptable” and called the campaign a “war crime.”
Putin may still meet with Hollande next week in Berlin as part of discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.