Putin calls up Manmohan to explain Crimea claim

New Delhi, March 19: Hours after a defiant Russia claimed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea as part of its territory, Russian President Vladimir Putin called up Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to explain Moscow’s position with regard to the developments in Ukraine and the referendum in breakaway Crimea.

The phone call took place around 7.30 p.m. Tuesday after Putin signed a draft treaty with Crimean leaders to make the strategic peninsula a part of Russia. Putin’s move came even as the West, mainly the US and Europe, condemned Moscow’s actions as a blatant annexation of Crimea.

According to the external affairs ministry, Putin telephoned the prime minister at 7.30 p.m. and “discussed the evolving situation in Ukraine and the recent referendum in Crimea”.

“The prime minister thanked President Putin for explaining the Russian position with regard to recent developments in Ukraine. He emphasised the consistent position India had on the issues of unity and territorial integrity of countries,” a ministry statement said.

Putin signed the treaty taking over Crimea leaders at a ceremony at the Kremlin attended by both houses of parliament, after over 97 percent of Crimeans voted in favour of joining Russia in a referendum on Sunday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “expressed hope that all sides would exercise restraint and work together constructively to find political and diplomatic solutions that protected the legitimate interests of all countries in the region and ensured long term peace and stability in Europe and beyond”, the statement added.

Manmohan Singh and Putin also discussed “the close relationship and mutually beneficial partnership” between their countries and reaffirmed the importance that the two sides attached to their special and privileged strategic partnership.

“The prime minister also thanked President Putin for his personal leadership in further deepening and strengthening the India-Russia strategic partnership in recent years,” the release said.In the Kremlin, Putin gave a fiery address seeking to justify the incorporation of Crimea into Russia.

He referred to Crimea’s ancient and Soviet history and brushed off US and EU sanctions. He said Russia was tired of being pushed into a corner by the West and assailed it for what he called broken promises, on issues like NATO, missile defence and visa-free travel.

“On Ukraine the West crossed a line,” he said. Reacting to the Russian move to claim Crimea, US Vice President Joe Biden warned Moscow that the US and Europe will impose further sanctions. He said Russia’s actions constituted a blatant violation of international law. German Chancellor Angela Merkel firmly rejected Moscow’s absorption of Crimea,

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK was suspending military cooperation with Russia in light of the crisis. US President Barack Obama called for a G7 summit next week in The Hague to discuss the escalating East-West showdown.

IANS