Putin defends ‘private’ trip to Austrian FM’s wedding

Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl came under fire for inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to her wedding. (AFP pic)

SOCHI: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday defended his appearance at the Austrian foreign minister’s wedding after his dance with the bride caused a furore.

“The trip was purely private,” he told a press conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi while meeting Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto.

Nevertheless, he said that “despite the festivities we were able to speak both to the foreign minister and to the Austrian Chancellor (Sebastian Kurz)”.

Austria plays a “very positive role” not only in two-way relations but “in arranging dialogue between Russia and the European Union,” he said.

Putin was one of a small group of guests at Saturday’s wedding of Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl in a wine-growing village in southeastern Austria.

A video showing the bride thanking Putin with a deep bow after a dance together has gone viral and prompted a hail of criticism from her opponents.

Putin said the wedding guests were “all grown-ups, with serious positions in society and in government” but were also “very open and joyous.”

The Russian strongman, a keen judo practitioner, said he had bonded with the groom, businessman Wolfgang Meilinger.

The groom “is a former sportsman, a judo practitioner, and that always brings you closer together,” Putin said.

Although Kneissl, 53, is independent, she was nominated to her role by the far-right Freedom Party.

The party supports Russia’s claim of sovereignty over Crimea — which Moscow seized from Ukraine in in 2014 — and advocates the easing of economic sanctions levied against Moscow over its role in the Ukrainian conflict.

It also has a “cooperation pact” with Putin’s United Russia party.

Even before the wedding, Austrian opposition politicians had criticised the invitation to Putin, saying it undermined the country’s claim to be an “honest broker” between Europe and Russia.

Russia has been accused of seeking to weaken and divide the EU, notably by maintaining links with populist parties in several European countries.

Kneissl invited Putin to her wedding when he visited Vienna this year.

He attended the event along with a traditional Cossack choir from southern Russia who performed folk songs, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Speculation has swirled over Putin’s own relationship status since he and his wife Lyudmila announced in 2013 that they were divorcing.