UKRAINIAN president Petro Poroshenko lashed out at India yesterday over a visit by the leader of Crimea, the former Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia, who accompanied Vladimir Putin’s annual summit delegation this week.
India does not back western sanctions against Russia, and the unofficial trip by Sergey Aksyonov could spoil the mood before prime minister Narendra Modi hosts US president Barack Obama for India’s Republic Day festivities in January.
Mr Poroshenko, addressing the Lowy Institute think tank in Sydney, said India was placing more importance on “money” than “values” by welcoming Mr Aksyanov, and it was not standing with “civilisation” against Russian aggression.
“It is not an easy job, to keep the world together,” Mr Poroshenko said to laughter, when asked by a journalist about the visit. “The Indian position doesn’t help, it doesn’t save Mr Aksyanov,” he added. “He is a criminal, it’s very simple. He has a criminal background and no doubt he has a criminal future.”
US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was “troubled” by reports Mr Aksyonov may have been part of Mr Putin’s delegation and was seeking more information. “We understand that the Indian ministry of external affairs have said they were not officially aware of his visit or his participation in the delegation,” she said. “
We are seeking further clarification on that.”
Ms Psaki also referred to reports of new nuclear and defence deals between India and Russia and reiterated the Obama administration’s view that it was “not time for business as usual with Russia”.
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Mr Aksyonov arrived at the Oberoi hotel in New Delhi accompanied by Russian diplomats to be greeted by Gul Kripalani, a Mumbai-based seafood merchant who wants to boost trade with Russia.
Speaking to reporters after signing a memorandum of understanding to promote business, Mr Aksyonov said his visit had “a private character” and he did not take part in any official events. He tweeted separately, however, that he had come to India as “a member of the delegation under the leadership of the president of the Russian federation, Vladimir Putin”.
The towering 42-year-old, previously an obscure nationalist politician, was elected in a closed session of the regional parliament after Russian forces took control of the Crimean peninsula in a bloodless operation in February. He masterminded a quick-fire referendum to join Russia that was recognised by Moscow. Kiev and the West say it was rigged.
It is clear his visit enjoyed Russia’s full diplomatic backing, with the consul-general to Mumbai and an aide to ambassador Alexander Kadakin attending. No Indian officials were present.
News of the event leaked out on Wednesday when the Russian embassy invited reporters to a signing ceremony only to cancel late in the evening.
At a joint news conference after meeting the Russian president, Mr Modi emphasised India’s deep security ties with Russia. No potentially awkward questions were allowed at the tightly stage-managed event.
India, which observes a policy of non-intervention, has refrained from criticising Moscow’s takeover of Crimea and support for an uprising in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 4,300 people since April.
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