US, most EU nations to boycott Putin's inauguration over Ukraine war

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Putin attends Orthodox Easter service

By John Irish and Tom Balmforth

PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) -The United States and most European Union nations will boycott a Kremlin ceremony to swear in Vladimir Putin for a new six-year term as president on Tuesday, but France and some other EU states were expected to send an envoy despite a plea by Kyiv.

The varying diplomatic response by the Western powers underscored differences over how to handle the Russian leader more than two years after he launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"No, we will not have a representative at his inauguration," Matthew Miller, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, said. "We certainly did not consider that election free and fair but he is the president of Russia and he is going to continue in that capacity."

Britan and Canada said they would not send anyone to attend the ceremony, which comes a day after Russia on Monday announced it would hold tactical nuclear weapons drills that it said it hoped would cool down "hotheads" in the West.

Putin won a landslide victory in a presidential election in March just weeks after his most prominent opponent, Alexei Navalny, died in jail. Western governments condemned the re-election as unfair and undemocratic.

"Ukraine sees no legal grounds for recognising him as the democratically elected and legitimate president of the Russian Federation," the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony, it said, sought to create "the illusion of legality for the nearly lifelong stay in power of a person who has turned the Russian Federation into an aggressor state and the ruling regime into a dictatorship."

A senior Kremlin official said the heads of all the foreign diplomatic missions in Moscow had been invited to attend Putin's inauguration, the Interfax news agency reported.

An EU spokesperson said the bloc's ambassador to Russia would not attend the ceremony, in keeping with the position of most of the bloc's member states.

A European diplomat said 20 EU member states would boycott the event, but that seven others were expected to send a representative. Apart from France, Hungary and Slovakia were both expected to attend, two diplomatic sources said.

Germany's Foreign Ministry said it would not attend.


Underscoring divisions over how to deal with Russia, a Paris diplomatic source said: "France will be represented by its ambassador to Russia."

Speaking alongside China's president on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said: "We are not at war with Russia or the Russian people, and we have no desire for regime change in Moscow."

The source said France had previously condemned the context of repression in which the election was held, depriving voters of a real choice, as well as the organisation of elections in Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia, which France considers a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter.

Franco-Russian relations have deteriorated in recent months as Paris has increased its support for Ukraine.

Just last week Macron did not rule out sending troops to Ukraine, saying if Russia broke through Ukrainian front lines it would be legitimate to consider it if Kyiv requested the support.

The Baltic states, which no longer have envoys in Moscow, have categorically ruled out attending the inauguration.

"We believe that the isolation of Russia, and especially of its criminal leader, must be continued," Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said.

"Participation in Putin's inauguration is not acceptable for Lithuania. Our priority remains support for Ukraine and its people fighting against Russian aggression."

(Reporting by John Irish, Andrew Gray, Alexander Ratz, Andrius Sytas and Charlotte Van Campenhout, Yuliia Dysa and Muvija M; Writing by John Irish and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Stephen Coates)