MOSCOW — Amid a bitter rift over Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin indefinitely postponed a trip to France after Paris had revised its program for the visit and said it would talk about nothing else but the Syrian crisis.
French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that Putin put off his visit set for next week after he let him know he wouldn't take part in the opening of the new Russian Orthodox church and was only interested in talks about Syria.
Over the weekend, Russia blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution proposed by France and Spain on ending the hostilities in the war-torn country, blaming Paris for the refusal to discuss a compromise version. And on Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Russia for possible war crimes in Syria.
"France has a major disagreement with Russia over Syria," Hollande said. "And the Russian veto to the French resolution at the U.N. council has prevented the cessation of the bombings, as well as the proclamation of a cease-fire."
At the same time, he added that he believes that a dialogue with Russia is essential for ending the massacre.
"The main victims are the civilians who live and die under the bombs," Hollande said. "That's the reason why I consider that a dialogue with Russia is necessary. But it should be firm and open. Otherwise... it's a mockery."
Putin's trip to Paris, which was planned for next Tuesday, envisaged the opening of a Russian cultural center and an exhibition, but the French side had revised the program, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
"Regrettably, those events dropped out of the program," Peskov said, saying it's up to the French side to explain the reason. "The president decided to cancel the visit."
Putin and Hollande were to inaugurate a new Orthodox church next to the Eiffel Tower along with a cultural center.
Peskov said that Putin could visit France at a later date which would be "comfortable" for Hollande.
He denied that the cancellation of Putin's visit to France reflected a growing international isolation of Moscow over its actions in Syria, where Russian warplanes have supported the Syrian army offensive on Aleppo.
"No, the president hasn't found himself in isolation," Peskov said, dismissing the claim as "absurd."
"Russia and its president aren't facing anything of the kind."
Ayrault's statement Monday followed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's call for a war crimes investigation into Russian and Syrian airstrikes in Syria, an appeal Russia has angrily rejected.
Asked about a possible meeting of Russian, French, German and Ukrainian leaders in Berlin on Oct. 19 to discuss the Ukrainian crisis, Peskov said that "preliminary preparation for such a meeting has been underway," but stopped short of announcing it.
Hollande said he was ready to meet the Russian leader at any moment if it helps bring peace to Syria.
"I'm therefore ready to meet with President Putin at any time if we have the possibility to make peace progress, to make the bombings stop and to proclaim peace," he said.
Samuel Petrequin reported from Paris.