Zelensky blasts Modi for meeting with Putin: Ukraine leaders after big spat with China, lost friends in India too

Left to right: US President Joe Biden; President Voldymyr Zelenskyy (Ukraine); NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană

krainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday criticized his Indian counterpart’s visit to Moscow as a “huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts,” on the same day that a Russian missile smashed into a children’s hospital in Kyiv.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow on Monday, while 900 kilometers away (560 miles) Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities in a morning rush hour assault that killed at least 37 people and injured 170 others.

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Modi’s two-day trip marks his first visit to Russia since Putin began his full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly two and a half years ago, with images and video Monday showing the two leaders hugging, chatting over tea, riding in an electric vehicle and watching a horse show.

“It is a huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts to see the leader of the world’s largest democracy hug the world’s most bloody criminal in Moscow on such a day,” Zelensky said in a post on X on Monday, referring to the deadly Russian attacks.

The large-scale daylight bombardment struck the capital Kyiv, and cities including Dnipro, Kryvyi Rih, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk – some of which are heavily populated areas far from the front lines.

In Kyiv, 27 people were killed, including three children, the city’s military administration said Monday. Two people were killed and at least 16 others were injured in the strike on Kyiv’s Okhmatdyt hospital.

The facility is Ukraine’s largest children’s medical center and has been vital in the care of some of the sickest children from across the country.

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Russia’s defense ministry on Monday claimed that its forces struck “military industrial facilities of Ukraine and air bases of the Ukrainian armed forces,” with long-range, high-precision weapons. Without providing evidence, the Russian ministry also claimed that photos and videos from the hospital blast confirmed the damage was caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile.

Modi’s Russia visit

Meanwhile, near the Russian capital, Modi thanked Putin for hosting him at his suburban residence, saying in a post on X, “Looking forward to our talks tomorrow as well, which will surely go a long way in further cementing the bonds of friendship between India and Russia.”

Putin is set to host official talks with Modi on Tuesday at the Kremlin. The trip is a sign that New Delhi and Moscow remain close despite Russia’s deepening dependence on China and is widely seen as the latest dent in efforts by Western leaders to cast Putin aside.

India has longstanding ties to Moscow and remains heavily reliant on the Kremlin for its military equipment. It has ramped up purchases of discounted Russian crude oil, giving Putin’s nation a major financial lifeline as it faces isolation from the West.

Ahead of the visit, a statement from Modi’s office said the Indian leader would review “all aspects of bilateral cooperation with my friend President Vladimir Putin and sharing perspectives on various regional and global issues. We seek to play a supportive role for a peaceful and stable region.”

The United States has raised concerns with India about its relationship with Russia, a US State Department spokesperson told reporters in a media briefing Monday.

“I will look to Prime Minister Modi’s public remarks to see what he talked about, but as I said, we made quite clear directly with India our concerns about their relationship with Russia,” spokesperson Matthew Miller said. “We would hope India and any other country, when they engage with Russia, would make clear that Russia should respect the UN Charter, should respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

While India has called for a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine and restoration of peace, it has also abstained from all resolutions on Ukraine at the United Nations and stopped short of condemning Russia’s invasion.

Trade between the two countries was worth nearly $65 billion in 2023-24, primarily due to strong energy cooperation, but most of that total flowed toward Russia, according to India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal.

Reducing the trade imbalance would be a “matter of priority” in Modi’s discussions with Putin, he said, ahead of the trip.

The visit is also Modi’s first bilateral trip since winning a rare third term in India’s mammoth elections last month.

Russian Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov said the Kremlin attaches “primary importance” to Modi’s visit, Russian state-run news agency TASS reported.

The Russian attacks in Ukraine came a day before US President Joe Biden hosts a crucial NATO summit in Washington, where new announcements over the alliance’s military, political and financial support for Kyiv are expected.

Biden called Russian missile strikes in Kyiv – including on the children’s hospital – a “horrific reminder of Russia’s brutality,” in a statement Monday evening.

“It is critical that the world continues to stand with Ukraine at this important moment and that we not ignore Russian aggression,” Biden said.

CNN’s Rhea Mogul, Svitlana Vlasova, Daria Tarasova-Markina, Maria Kostenko and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, contributed reporting.

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