Putin, Obama speeches to take centre stage at UN

2015-09-28 16:12
Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP)

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Moscow - Addresses by Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama were set to take centre stage at the United Nations on Monday.

It is the Russian leader's first speech before the General Assembly in a decade, and comes as Moscow's relations with the West have sunk to a low unprecendented since the Cold War.

Putin is expected to meet with Obama later in the day. The conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, two flashpoints in US-Russian ties, could be on the agenda. It has been nearly a year since they last met.

In his speech, Putin was expected to emphasise Russia's efforts to resolve the Syrian civil war and combat the Islamic State extremist group, contrasting it with the US-led military campaign in Iraq and Syria.

Moscow has hosted numerous Middle Eastern leaders in recent weeks as it builds its role a mediator in the Syrian conflict while simultaneously providing military support for the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Russia has justified its backing for Assad, a longtime ally, because he is the elected leader of the country and is a main fighting force against Islamic State.

"There is only one regular army there. That is the army of Syrian President Assad. And he is confronted with what some of our international partners interpret as an opposition. In reality, al-Assad's army is fighting against terrorist organisations," Putin told US broadcaster CBS in an interview aired on Sunday.

The United States is leading a coalition against Islamic State that is facing domestic scrutiny for being ineffective.

Washington initially planned to train 5 000 local fighters to fight the Islamic State. But this month a US general told the Senate that only "four or five" Syrian fighters trained by the US were actively battling the terrorist group.

Putin cited this in the interview, saying "the rest of them have deserted with the American weapons to join ISIS".

Putin's popularity rose internationally in late 2013 when Russia negotiated a deal to dispose of the Syrian military's chemical weapons, but months later Russia's annexation of Crimea critically damaged Putin's reputation on the world stage.

The United Nations estimates that 250 000 people have died in the Syrian conflict. More than half the country's prewar population of 22.4 million has been internally displaced or fled abroad.

Read more on:    un  |  barack obama  |  vladimir putin  |  us  |  russia

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