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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with the regional leader of Karelia in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 11, 2015. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Presidential Press Service)
Russian President Vladimir Putin 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed a planned visit to France next week after President François Hollande offered to hold a meeting exclusively on the conflict in Syria, according to the Elysée presidential palace.

The French presidency announced on Tuesday that the Elysée Palace had made contact with the Kremlin to offer Putin a “working meeting” to discuss Syria, and nothing else, but that the Russian president had shunned the offer.

“In response to this proposal, Russia has just indicated that it wants to postpone the visit planned on October 19,” the Elysée source told the AFP news agency. Putin was scheduled to inaugurate a new Russian Orthodox cathedral and visit a Russian art exhibition in the French capital.

The announcement came a day after Hollande suggested he would avoid meeting Putin in Paris, after the Kremlin blocked a UN Security Council bid to end bombings in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The Socialist president condemned Russia’s “unacceptable” support for Syrian air strikes and described the scorched-earth campaign in Aleppo as a “war crime”.

“I asked myself the question… Is it useful? Is it necessary? Can it be a way of exerting pressure? Can we get him to stop what he is doing with the Syrian regime?” Hollande told France’s TMC channel on Monday in reference to the Russian president.

Syrian government forces kept up their blistering assault on rebel-held eastern Aleppo over the weekend after a divided UN Security Council failed to agree on a truce in the war-battered city.

Russia then vetoed a French-drafted resolution demanding an end to the bombing of Aleppo on Saturday, and then saw its own rival measure on a truce also rejected.

The failure of the two resolutions deepened divisions between Moscow and the Western powers backing rebel forces in Syria’s five-year war – a conflict which has killed 300,000 people.

‘War crimes’

Putin’s decision to postpone the Paris trip also came after French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he would ask the International Criminal Court to investigate possible war crimes in Syria.

Ayrault told France Inter radio on Monday that Hollande would take into account the situation in Aleppo when deciding whether to meet his Russian counterpart in Paris.

“We do not agree with what Russia is doing, bombarding Aleppo. France is committed as never before to saving the population of Aleppo,” Ayrault said. “If the President decides [to see Putin], this will not be to trade pleasantries,” he added.

“These bombings – and I said it in Moscow – are war crimes,” Ayrault added. “It includes all those who are complicit for what’s happening in Aleppo, including Russian leaders.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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