Paralympics: Putin thanks countries for leaving 'politics' out of Sochi
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday thanked sporting officials for keeping politics out of the Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, while insisting that Moscow had not instigated the crisis over Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.
"I want to thank you for keeping the Paralympics away from politics and the difficult circumstances you all know about," he told the heads of several national paralympic committees in the Black Sea resort.
"I want to assure you that Russia did not initiate these circumstances," Putin said, referring to the increasingly tense Cold War-style standoff with the West over Moscow's intervention in Crimea.
Ukraine moved Thursday to mobilise a force of 60,000 volunteers in a bid to keep Russian forces from advancing beyond the Crimean peninsula where they took control following the ouster of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych late last month.
The head of Ukraine's paralympic committee Valery Sushkevich had earlier said he would boycott the meeting with Putin in protest at Moscow's actions in Crimea.
His decision not to attend was supported by Germany, Norway and Austria, among others, Ukraine's paralympic committee said in a statement.
"They expressed their solidarity with Ukraine's fight for peace," the committee said.
Some Western countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, have not sent government delegations to the Paralympics in protest at Russia's Crimea intervention.
Ukraine's athletes arrived in Sochi before Putin was given the green light by lawmakers early this month to send troops into the flashpoint Black Sea peninsula.
Just hours before the opening celebrations, Sushkevich announced that the athletes would be staying to take part in the Games. A lone Ukrainian skier carried the national flag in his wheelchair at the ceremony.
Ukraine excels in cross-country skiing and biathlon, and is ranked third so far at the Paralympics with a total of 14 medals, including three golds.
Several Ukrainian athletes have covered their medals with their palms at the nightly medal ceremonies in what Ukraine's sports minister, Dmytro Bulatov, said was an expression of their outrage at Russia's actions.
© 2014 AFP