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Vladimir Putin

Russia’s Vladimir Putin defends ‘private’ trip to Austrian foreign minister’s wedding after video of their dance goes viral

Video shows Austria’s Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, radiant, bending her knees in a deep curtesy bow in front of Vladimir Putin at the end of a dance with him

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2018, 11:59am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2018, 11:59am

Russian President Vladimir Putin has 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 the 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.

“How unprofessional can a foreign minister be – to produce photos that show you kneeling in front of Putin? Even if it’s just a funny courtesy gesture after a dance, one knows that one should not produce such photos,” left-wing essayist Robert Misik said.

Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), who was also a wedding guest, defended Kneissl, saying she had attended the prestigious Vienna dance school Elmayer and knew her manners as the gesture was a tradition after the dance and Putin in turn bowed.

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 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.

Additional reporting by Reuters