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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit a stable during an informal meeting outside Moscow, on July 8, 2024. (Gavrill Grigorov/Pool/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

Zelensky blasts Modi’s meeting with Putin

July 9, 2024

By Helen Regan, Mariya Knight and Victoria Butenko, CNN

(CNN) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky 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 less than 600 miles away Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities in a morning rush hour assault that killed at least 39 people.

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.

Modi did not address the strikes directly during a meeting with Putin at the Kremlin on Tuesday though he did say solutions to conflict are unlikely to come through war, but rather peace and dialogue.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit a stable during an informal meeting outside Moscow, on July 8, 2024. (Gavrill Grigorov/Pool/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

“Whether it’s conflict war or terror, any person who believes in humanity is troubled when there are deaths, especially when innocent children die,” Modi told reporters while seated alongside the Russian president, appearing to deliver his most critical comments to date against Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“As a friend, I have always said that peace is necessary for the prosperity of future generations, but I also know that on the battlefield, solutions aren’t easy to come by between guns, bombs and bullets. We have to adopt a path to peace through dialogue,” Modi said.

The Indian prime minister said the “world is watching this current visit and interpreting it in various ways.”

He added: “India is ready to support you in every possible way to achieve peace. I assure you and the world that we are in favor of peace and, after talking to my friend Putin yesterday, I have hope.”

Modi said the two leaders had discussed Ukraine when he made a five-hour visit to Putin’s Novo-Ogaryovo residence late Monday. Putin also confirmed to reporters Tuesday that the pair had discussed Ukraine, thanking Modi for his attempts to find a solution to the conflict.

Earlier Tuesday, Modi praised relations between the two countries while addressing the Indian diaspora in Moscow. He also announced the opening of two new consulates in the Russian cities of Yekaterinburg and Kazan to “facilitate travel and business.”

“No matter if the temperatures in Russia are in minus, Russia-India friendship has always been in plus,” he said. “This is a relationship built on a foundation of mutual trust and mutual respect.”

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, 29 people were killed, according to Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko on Tuesday. 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.

Videos from the scene showed volunteers working with police and security services to dig through the rubble as smoke billowed from the hospital. Search and rescue operations for people potentially trapped beneath the debris continued on Tuesday.

Hospital staff said they tried to rush children to safety in the wake of the attack. Two children had been in the operating theaters at the time of the blast, and both were relocated to the basement shelter once their procedures were completed, a senior nurse told CNN. Another senior nurse said an operation on a 2-year-old was underway when the strike happened.

“The lights went out, everything went out. We pulled out the instruments, shining flashlights. Everything was sewn up quickly,” Iryna Filimonova said. “The baby was brought down (to the shelter). I immediately ran to help clear the rubble.”

United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk said the blast forced medical workers to treat sick children outside the facility.

Patients were “receiving treatment for cancer in hospital beds set up in parks and on streets, where medical workers had quickly established triage areas, amongst chaos, dust and debris,” he said in a statement.

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, in the Russian capital on Tuesday, Putin and Modi held official talks at the Kremlin.

Earlier in the day, they visited an exhibition center hosting a pavilion on the nuclear industry, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Putin had welcomed the Indian leader to his Novo-Ogaryovo residence late Monday, where the Russian president greeted him as a “dear friend” and said he was “very happy” to see him, TASS reported.

Modi thanked Putin for hosting him at his suburban property, 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.”

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.

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