(CNSNews.com) – On the eve of a G8 summit with Syria high on the agenda, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a harsh assessment Sunday of the nature of the Syrian rebellion, signaling that Moscow has no intention of softening its opposition to Western support for the anti-Assad opposition.
After talks in London with summit host British Prime Minister David Cameron, Putin did not conceal his strength of feeling about plans by some governments, including the United States, to arm the Syrian opposition.
Russia is a key supporter of President Bashar Assad, and when a reporter during a Downing Street press conference recalled that Cameron had in the past said those supporting the Syrian leader had the blood of Syrian children on their hands, Putin reacted angrily.
He said blood was on the hands of both sides in the Syrian conflict, and alluded to a video clip circulating last month apparently showing a jihadist rebel leader cutting out and making as if to eat the heart of a Syrian soldier.
“I believe you will not deny the fact that one hardly should back those who kill their enemies and, you know, eat their organs and all that is filmed and shot,” Putin said, speaking through an interpreter.
“Are these the people you want to support? Is it them you want to supply with weapons? So, in this case, it has hardly any relation to the communitarian and cultural values that Europe has been professing for centuries. In Russia, we cannot imagine such things happening.”
Cameron conceded that the gap between Russia and the West was wide, but suggested that there were areas of agreement, over the need to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
“You can see there are very big differences between the analysis we have of what happened in Syria and who is to blame,” he said. “But where there is common ground is we both see a humanitarian catastrophe; we both see the dangers of instability and extremism; we both want to see a peace conference and a transition.”
Cameron expressed hope that the G8 leaders meeting in Northern Ireland on Monday would be able to set aside their differences and focus on the areas of agreement regarding the conflict.
Of the G8 members, Britain, France and the United States are most in favor of giving more support to Syrian rebels while Russia is steadfastly opposed.
Germany’s ruling coalition is divided over the matter (foreign minister Guido Westerwelle’s party is skeptical about providing weapons) while Italy is believed to support arming “moderates” among the rebels.
Canada’s conservative prime minister Stephen Harper has for month ruled out arming rebels over fears doing so may benefit extremists among them, although on Sunday he said he understood why others were moving closer to taking such a step, and criticized Russia for continuing to support the regime.
G8 member Japan has focused on humanitarian aid to the opposition, avoiding sending goods that could be diverted to military purposes.
President Obama on Friday night held an hour-long video conference with the leaders of the four European G8 members. The White House said the five “discussed Syria, including the regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, and ways to support a political transition to end the conflict.”
‘Don’t arm maniacs’
The atrocity Putin referred to in his Downing Street comments appeared on a video posted online by a pro-Assad group last month. It purported to show a leader of a rebel group known as the “Independent Omar al-Farouq” brigade mutilating a soldier’s corpse and then putting the heart into his mouth.
After reviewing the footage, Human Rights Watch said the Syrian National Coalition and Free Syrian Army – which the U.S. recognizes and supports – “should take all possible steps to hold those responsible for war crimes accountable and prevent such abuses by anyone under their command.”
“Any party with the power to do so should do all it can to keep weapons from reaching the brigade,” Human Rights Watch said.
Britain and France last month prodded the European Union to allow a Syrian arms embargo to expire, a decision that would allow E.U. member states to arm rebels from August 1.
Cameron said Sunday that Britain has “made no decision to arm the rebels, to arm the opposition, but I think it’s very important that we continue to work with them, help them, train and assist them, in order to make sure that we have an influence on the opposition, who I believe want a democratic Syria.”
But with the U.S. moving towards arming the rebels, many Britons expect their government to do so as well, and voices of opposition have been growing – including within Cameron’s Conservative Party.
Among those sounding a warning at the weekend were London mayor Boris Johnson, an influential Conservative, who wrote in a Daily Telegraph op-ed that it would be impossible to arm rebels without weapons reaching “al-Qaeda-affiliated thugs.”
“This is not the moment to send more arms,” Johnson write. “This is the moment for a total ceasefire, an end to the madness. It is time for the US, Russia, the E.U., Turkey, Iran, Saudi and all the players to convene an intergovernmental conference to try to halt the carnage. We can’t use Syria as an arena for geopolitical point-scoring or muscle-flexing, and we won’t get a ceasefire by pressing weapons into the hands of maniacs.”