The attack on a UN humanitarian aid convoy near the Syrian city of Aleppo last month, which Washington has blamed on Russia, was actually carried out by one of the terrorist groups present in the area, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.
“It was one of the terrorist groups. And we know that, say, the Americans know it too, but prefer to take a different position, to falsely accuse Russia. This is not helping,” Putin said at an economic forum in Moscow.
The aid convoy was attacked on the night of September 20. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported 20 civilians killed and 18 vehicles destroyed.
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The Pentagon alleged that the convoy was destroyed from the air and that Russian warplanes were present in the area, concluding that it was a Russian strike that was responsible.
Russia denied the accusation and said a US drone was monitoring the convoy, so Washington should know the truth about the attack.
Putin also commented on the disagreement at the UN Security Council that eventually led to the cancellation of his visit to France. Paris indicated that it wouldn’t be comfortable hosting the Russian leader after Moscow blocked a resolution it had submitted.
“It’s not our partners who should take offense over us vetoing the French resolution. I’d say we are the offended party here,” Putin said.
He said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had raised the idea of the resolution when he visited Moscow last week. Ayrault was told the draft pinned too much blame for the Aleppo violence on the Syrian government, but that if France made some amendments, the document could still pass.
However, as Ayrault visited Washington on the eve of the UNSC meeting, no changes were made to the draft and France also "accused Russia of all the deadly sins," Putin said.
"Knowing our position, and not discussing it with us, they didn't chuck in the resolution so it would pass, but [did it] to get the veto. What for? To exacerbate the situation and to whip up anti-Russian hysteria in media under their control, and to deceive their own citizens," he added.
The situation in Syria will be discussed on Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland, where top diplomats from the US, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are to gather for a meeting.
Washington and its allies are using the Syrian crisis to play politics, instead of providing real solutions, Vladimir Putin told French TV. He said that Moscow has put forward an offer to send troops to safeguard aid convoys in Aleppo, while the West accuses Moscow of committing war crimes.
“This is political rhetoric that does not have great significance and does not take into account the real situation in Syria,” Putin told French TV channel TF1 during an interview in the central Russian city of Kovrov, when asked about the accusations that have been leveled by Francois Hollande, UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, and the Obama administration.
Putin then accused the West of destabilizing the region – citing the Arab Spring in 2011 as a key flashpoint for tensions that still dominate the Muslim world.
“I believe deeply that some of the responsibility for what is happening in the region in general and in Syria in particular lies especially with our western partners, above all the USA and its allies, including the main European countries,” said Putin.“Remember how everyone rushed to support the Arab Spring? Where is that optimism now? How did it all end? Remember what Libya or Iraq looked like before these countries and their organizations were destroyed as states by our western partners’ forces?”
Putin linked the volatility in the region to the recent spate of large-scale terrorist attacks in the West, which have either been planned or inspired by jihadist groups such as Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), which have thrived in the chaos.
“[Before the Arab Spring] these Middle Eastern countries were not examples of democracies as we understand the word today, and there probably was a need and possibility to influence these societies’ organization, the state organization, and the nature of these regimes,” said Putin, who was attending a festival dedicated to Sambo, a Russian combat sport.
But whatever the case, these states showed no signs of terrorism. They were not a threat for Paris, for the Cote d’Azur, for Belgium, for Russia, or for the United States. Now, they are the source of terrorist threats. Our goal is to prevent the same from happening in Syria.”
Putin also detailed his version of the breakdown of the long-negotiated joint operation between Washington and Moscow in Syria, claiming the key turning point was the September 16 US-led coalition strike on a Syrian army unit, which the Pentagon maintains was accident.
“Our American colleagues told us that this airstrike was made in error. This error cost the lives of 80 people and, also just coincidence, perhaps, ISIS took the offensive immediately afterwards. At the same time, lower down the ranks, at the operations level, one of the American military service personnel said quite frankly that they spent several days preparing this strike. How could they make an error if they were several days in preparation?” said Putin. “This is how our ceasefire agreement ended up broken. Who broke the agreement? Was it us? No.”
Several western powers have since blamed Russia for what they claim was a retaliatory strike on a UN convoy on September 20. Washington has now broken off any bilateral talks with Moscow over Syria.
But Putin says that Russia is still open to helping resolve what the UN has termed the worst humanitarian crisis since the war – which has likely killed over 400,000 people – began five years ago.
“It has been proposed that our armed units, Russian military personnel, be deployed on the road to ensure transit safety [for aid convoys to Aleppo]. The Russian military, who are courageous and decisive people, have said they would do it,” said Putin, who said that the initiative, which had not previously been made public, was an “exotic proposal.”
“But I told them that this could only be done jointly with the US, and ordered them to make the proposal. We have proposed this, and they [the Americans] promptly refused. They do not want to deploy their troops there, but they also do not want to pull back opposition groups – who are, in fact, terrorists. What can we do in this situation?”