David Cameron aims to use a proposed visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the judo event at the London Olympics to discuss the worsening conflict in Syria, two people familiar with the U.K. premier’s plans said.
The U.K. government is urging Putin, an ally of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, to help secure a peaceful resolution to the fighting between the government and opposition forces. The conflict, which began in March 2011 as a largely peaceful protest movement, has cost more than 19,000 lives, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Russia, whose ties with Syria’s ruling elite date to the Cold War, used its United Nations Security Council veto for a third time last week to protect Assad from censure. China also blocked the resolution threatening sanctions on the Syrian regime unless Assad complied with a UN peace plan he has so far flouted. Putin said yesterday any overthrowing of Assad would push Syria into civil war.
Putin, who holds a black belt in judo, said last month he planned to visit the London games in a private capacity to watch the sport. He has yet to confirm the visit, according to one of the people familiar with the British premier’s plans, who declined to be identified because the meeting hasn’t yet been officially announced.
Details of Putin’s “brief visit” to London are still being finalized, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said by phone today from the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The Olympic judo events start on July 28 and run through Aug. 3.
Forces loyal to Assad are battling to save his government after rebels took the fight to Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s two largest cities, and seized border posts with Turkey and Iraq.
Cameron has called repeatedly on Assad to step down from power. Russia, which has its only military base outside the former Soviet Union in the Syrian port of Tartus, says both sides in the conflict should renounce violence and negotiate.
“The message to President Assad is, it is time for transition, it is time for you to go,” Cameron told a press conference in the Afghan capital Kabul on July 19, before the most recent UN vote. When asked if he had a message for Russia, he said that “it’s time for the UN Security Council to pass clear and tough messages about sanctions and be unambiguous in this.”