West pressures Moscow over Syria as Putin visits Europe | News | DW | 01.06.2012
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West pressures Moscow over Syria as Putin visits Europe

As newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin heads to Europe, pressure is growing on the Kremlin to change its stance on Syria. At the same time, though, Germany warned military intervention was no "silver bullet."

Russia is coming under growing pressure from the West to change its position on the conflict in Syria as newly elected President Vladimir Putin embarks on a trip to Germany and France.

President Putin was to hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin before moving on to Paris for a meeting with his newly elected French counterpart, Francois Hollande later in the day.

Just hours ahead of Putin's arrival in Berlin, Germany's foreign minister called on Russia to get tough on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow "needs to recognize that in trying to end the violence in Syria, we are not working against Russia's strategic interests," Guido Westerwelle said in an interview published in the Friday edition of the daily paper Die Welt.

At the same time, though, Westerwelle warned against premature discussion of military action.

"In this difficult situation one must not create the impression that military intervention is a silver bullet," Westerwelle said.

Earlier in the week, Chancellor Merkel indicated that she would use her meeting with Putin to push for a harder line. The chancellor will try to convince Russia "to ensure, like us, that the right decisions regarding the Assad regime are made at the UN," Merkel's spokesman told reporters in Berlin.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Vladimir Putin

Merkel and Putin have a long-standing working relationship

US pressure

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a different warning, saying Russia's ongoing support of its Soviet-era ally was increasing the chance of an all-out war in Syria.

The Russians "are telling me they don't want to see a civil war," Clinton told reporters during a visit to Denmark. "I have been telling them their policy is going (to) help contribute to a civil war."

Putin's visit to Paris will come just days after the French socialist president raised eyebrows by telling reporters that he would not rule out military action in Syria if it were backed by a United Nations Security Council mandate.

On Thursday, though, Hollande spoke of non-military means of ramping up the pressure on the Syrian government.

"I will talk about it with President Putin when he comes to Paris on Friday. He, along with China, has been the most reluctant on the question of sanctions," Hollande said. "And we must convince them that it is not possible to allow the Assad regime to massacre its own people."

The urgency of diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria increased significantly following the massacre in which more than 100 people, half of them children, died at Houla. An investigation by United Nations monitors found that Syrian government troops or militiamen loyal to Assad were most likely responsible for the killings. The Syrian government, which launched an investigation of its own, has blamed rebel fighters.

pfd/msh (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)