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India Questioned Over Crimean Leader’s Visit

FILE - Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov has caused a stir by traveling with Russian President Vladimir Putin to a summit in India.
FILE - Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov has caused a stir by traveling with Russian President Vladimir Putin to a summit in India.

India faced criticism and questions a day after the leader of Crimea, the Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia, visited the South Asian country. Sergey Aksyonov arrived with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was in the Indian capital Thursday for a one-day summit.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko slammed India, saying the country was placing more importance on money than values by welcoming the Crimean leader and was not standing with “civilization” against Russian aggression. Poroshenko was addressing the Lowy Institute think tank in Sydney.

An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman has said that New Delhi was not officially aware of Aksyonov’s visit and that he was not a part of Putin’s delegation. Indian officials did not accompany him at his meetings with a business group called the Indian-Crimean Partnership in New Delhi, which wants to boost trade with the Black Sea region. However, Russian diplomats were present.

The Crimean leader also termed his visit a private one. But he triggered a controversy when he tweeted that he had come to India as a member of Putin’s delegation.

US disapproves

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "We are troubled by reports that the delegation accompanying Putin may have included Sergey Aksyonov."

As India and Russia signed numerous defense and energy deals, Psaki also said, “It is not time for business as usual with Russia.”

Foreign policy commentators in New Delhi said Aksyonov possibly had arrived as an “unannounced guest.”

Concerns discounted

They dismissed concerns that the controversy could cast a shadow on the forthcoming visit of President Barack Obama, who is due to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations in late January.

“Even if the visit is troubling to Washington, it is not going to have a serious, long-term impact,” said Chintamani Mahapatra, an international studies professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Mahapatra said New Delhi does not want a foreign policy that is “either-or.” He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi simultaneously wants to pursue friendly ties with all major powers, whether it is the United States, China or Russia who will help India’s economic and strategic interests.

India has taken an officially neutral position on Russia’s actions in Crimea, neither endorsing nor condemning them. New Delhi also has refused to support Western sanctions against Russia.

At the summit with Putin, Modi reaffirmed India’s strong commitment to its Cold War ally, saying that despite changing global politics, the “importance of this relationship and its unique place in India’s foreign policy will not change.”