Obama to push Putin on Syria plans

Russian presence in war-torn country on agenda when leaders meet during UN session

WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama will push Russian President Vladimir Putin to explain how his country's military presence in war-hit Syria will contribute to the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria when the two leaders meet next week, White House officials have said.

They will hold a bilateral meeting on Monday during the three-day session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Russia has built up its military forces in recent weeks with combat aircraft, tanks and other equipment in support of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

"There's a lot of talk and now it's time for clarity and for Russia to come clean and come clear on just exactly how it proposes to be a constructive contributor to what is already an ongoing multi-nation coalition," Ms Celeste Wallander, the White House National Security Council's senior director for Russia, said on Thursday.

She added that Russia's argument that its recently enhanced military presence in the region will counter ISIS "doesn't really hold water".

Mr Obama will also press Mr Putin to live up to commitments Russia made in February to pull its military out of Ukraine by the end of the year, she said. During a briefing in Washington, Mr Josh Earnest, the US President's spokesman, played down the possibility for any "major announcement" from the meeting.

Meanwhile, pro-Russian rebels have ordered UN agencies working in the separatist stronghold of Lugansk in east Ukraine to leave the area yesterday, according to United Nations aid chief Stephen O'Brien.

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been told to leave Lugansk by today.

The UN estimates that the 17-month conflict in east Ukraine has claimed the lives of nearly 8,000 people and injured almost 18,000 - most of them civilians.

Mr O'Brien said he was "alarmed" by the decision and called on the separatists "in both Lugansk and Donetsk to ensure the immediate resumption of UN and international NGO activities".

Pro-Russian leaders said earlier they had banned 10 Western relief groups including Doctors Without Borders (MSF) for "grave violations" of laws. The Lugansk guerillas have accused MSF of "illegally storing psychotropic medication" that lacked proper registration in either Russia or Ukraine. The MSF strongly denies the allegations.

Mr O'Brien said some 16,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid had not been delivered and that local hospitals could not perform surgery because they lack anaesthesia.

The rebels' order came ahead of an Oct 2 meeting in Paris of Mr Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Mr Petro Poroshenko, to try to advance peace prospects.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'Obama to push Putin on Syria plans'. Print Edition | Subscribe