US and Ukraine shoot Crimea questions at Delhi

US and Ukraine shoot Crimea questions at Delhi

By: || Updated: 01 Jan 1970 12:00 AM
New Delhi: The US and Ukraine Friday demanded blunt explanations from India for the visit of Crimea's disputed leader with Russian President Vladimir Putin that has spawned clouds of tension over New Delhi's planned season of bonhomie with Washington.


Ukraine's ambassador to India, Oleksandr Shevchenko, drove to the ministry of external affairs and formally questioned the visit by Sergey Aksyonov, the Prime Minister of the breakaway Crimean republic annexed by Russia this March.


"This visit was most unfortunate," Shevchenko told The Telegraph in an interview later in the evening. "We want to know whether the visit means India recognises the Russian annexation of Crimea and Mr Aksyonov."


Navtej Sarna, secretary (West) in India's foreign office, told Shevchenko that Aksyonov was not a part of Putin's official delegation and travelled with business leaders as a part of the Russian President's entourage, officials from India and Ukraine confirmed.


India has opposed western sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea, but has so far not officially accepted the region as a part of Russia either. Those twin positions, Indian officials today said, remain unchanged.


"I was also told no Indian official met Mr Aksyonov," Shevchenko said.


But the Ukraine ambassador was non-committal when asked if Kiev was satisfied with India's response. "I was glad to hear the explanation from the external affairs ministry, but obviously, we will now see what this means and what we have to now do," Shevchenko said.


While Aksyonov only met one Indian business tycoon, seafood king Gul Kripalani, at a plush hotel in central Delhi during his trip, his very presence here - coupled with his travel with Putin's entourage - has enraged both the US and Ukraine.


It was under Aksyonov that Crimea conducted a referendum voting to join Russia in March. The West and Ukraine have dubbed that referendum illegal, and Ukraine in official documents describes Aksyonov as a "mafia boss" turned "puppet PM."


Aksyonov's visit threatens to blur the images of camaraderie between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama - a month before his trip to India as chief guest on Republic Day - that the two nations have cited to point to new warmth in ties after a frigid year.


Russia's annexation of Crimea has snowballed into the biggest diplomatic spat between the US and Russia since the end of the Cold War.


"We are troubled by reports that the delegation accompanying Putin had - may have included Sergey Aksyonov," US state department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Thursday in Washington, responding to a question on the Crimean leader's visit. "We're seeking further clarification on that."


India, Psaki indicated, had communicated that the government was not aware that Aksyonov would be a part of Putin's entourage - but refused to get drawn into whether New Delhi may have informally known that the Crimean leader would visit.


"I don't think we have any reason to believe they were aware," Psaki said.


Earlier in the day, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told an audience in Sydney that India appeared to be choosing money over values, in response to a question on Aksyonov's visit.


"The Indian position doesn't help, it doesn't save Mr Aksyonov," Poroshenko said. "He is a criminal, it's very simple. He has a criminal background and no doubt he has a criminal future."


- The Telegraph, Calcutta

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