Putin, Cameron to discuss Syria as Aleppo battle rages
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken Tuesday, July 31, 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with pro-Kremlin youth activists at a camp at a bank of Seliger Lake in Tver region, Russia. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Vladimir Putin were set for tense talks on the Syrian conflict on Thursday, before watching judo together at the London Olympics.
Britain has strongly criticised Moscow's refusal to back UN action against the Syria regime, where fighting between government forces and rebels rages on in the commercial capital Aleppo.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Putin would staunchly defend Russia's position on the crisis, on what is his first visit to Britain since 2005.
"We expect to have another opportunity to continue our dialogue and explain to the British side our well-argued, consistent and absolutely clear position on the (Syria) problem," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Russia and China have jointly blocked three UN Security Council resolutions that would have sanctioned President Bashar al-Assad's government over its 17-month crackdown on the opposition.
They have also refused to join international calls for Assad's departure.
Cameron is among the Western leaders calling for Assad to step down and Britain has warned of an impending humanitarian disaster in Aleppo, where UN officials say the regime is using fighter jets against the rebels.
Human rights monitors say the conflict has already killed more than 20,000 people.
Britain pledged more support for the rebels after Russia and China blocked the latest UN resolution against the Assad regime last month.
The two leaders were set to attend the Olympic judo together after the talks, in which Cameron also hopes to seal major trade deals despite tension between the countries over the Syrian conflict.
"My major priority is to get those trade deals, to get that investment -- and not to concentrate on what's happening on the mat," Cameron joked last week.
Putin, 59, is a judo black belt, and has often been filmed in Russia training with top-class athletes.
Russia and Britain have had rocky relations for years, particularly since the 2006 killing by poison of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London.
On Cameron's last visit to Moscow in 2011, he and Putin's predecessor Dmitry Medvedev -- now Russia's prime minister -- vowed to repair ties between their nations, and the pair signed trade deals worth $340 million.
But they acknowledged a failure to solve their differences over former KGB agent Litvinenko, who died of polonium poisoning.
Russia's refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect in the murder who later became a lawmaker, led to a sharp deterioration in ties under the former Labour government in London.