Putin puts Delhi in Crimea spot

Putin puts Delhi in Crimea spot

By: || Updated: 01 Jan 1970 12:00 AM
New Delhi: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi Thursday sent out not-so-subtle signals that will not please Washington, but also traded gentle barbs at a summit where the two nations tried to sugarcoat traditional ties hit by more recent challenges.


Putin flew in late Wednesday night with the controversial "Prime Minister" of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov. This was the first time the head of the disputed territory was travelling abroad with Putin since Crimea was annexed by Moscow in March.


Aksyonov, who Ukraine and the West refuse to recognise, met at least one Indian businessman, seafood mogul Gul Kripalani, before flying back tonight with Putin, Russian officials confirmed.


Though Aksyonov was not a part of Putin's official delegation for bilateral talks with India and did not meet any Indian officials, New Delhi did not protest his visit. Indian officials refused to confirm whether Russia had indicated Aksyonov would be coming.


Putin's decision to bring Aksyonov will help him signal to the US that one of the world's largest economies is not averse to hosting the Crimean leader under whose watch the region voted to break from Ukraine and join Russia in a controversial referendum. Ukraine officials refused comment today.


But Aksyonov's trip with Putin left Indian officials uneasy a little over a month before New Delhi hosts US President Barack Obama.


Influential sections in the US political set-up - both within the Obama government and Congress - have over the past year indicated unhappiness with India's refusal to criticise Russia for its annexation of Crimea. "Those voices may rise further now," an official said.


India has also been unhappy with a recent defence pact Russia struck with Pakistan, and Modi, in public comments after his meeting with Putin, appeared to refer to New Delhi's concerns. The "strong sensitivity we have always had for each other's interests," Modi said, remained the bedrock of India-Russia ties.


But Putin, speaking minutes later, may have left Modi uncomfortable. Reading out a statement meant to sum up his meeting with Modi, Putin said he "will also meet the president of the Indian National Congress".


It is common for visiting leaders to meet Opposition politicians, but these meetings are never announced by a leader standing metres away from the Prime Minister.


The Putin administration has been concerned in recent weeks about the growing proximity between Modi and the US, even though Washington had denied Modi a visa for nine years.


- The Telegraph, Calcutta

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