LONDON — Black belt Russian President Vladimir Putin locked horns with British leader David Cameron over Syria and human rights during a day of judo diplomacy at the Olympics today at a time when relations between their two nations are strained.
Cameron pushed the former KGB spy, to take a tougher line on Syria, Russia’s firmest foothold in the Middle East, and stop blocking Western-backed resolutions aimed at stepping up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.
He was also expected to raise concerns about what Putin critics see as an intensifying Kremlin campaign to silence dissent and discredit Russia’s opposition movement.
Cameron hosted Putin, the honorary president of the International Judo Federation, at Downing Street and took him to an Olympic arena to watch judo finals together.
A one-time judo champion in his native city of St Petersburg, then called Leningrad, Putin is likely to be at his combative best during his first visit to Britain in nine years.
For the Kremlin leader, who revels in his hard-man image, the sight of judokas body-slamming each other on the Olympic mat offered a powerful backdrop to his talks with Cameron.
Russia has faced growing Western criticism of its position on Syria, with the United States and Britain demanding Moscow drop its support for Assad.
Western powers believe that ousting Assad is the only way to end the bloodshed in Syria. Russia, on the other hand, provides arms to Damascus and has blocked three Western resolutions calling to increase pressure on Assad. (Reuters)