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Goa has provoked strain in India-Russia ties: Diplomat

Posted on Feb 01 2014 | IANS

Panaji, Feb 1 : Upset with the Goa government's "shocking" and abrupt refusal to allow an Indo-Russian music festival, Russia may shift the event to Thailand, a Russian diplomat said here Saturday.

Alexey Mzareulov, Russian deputy consul in Mumbai, said Goa did not care for the money that Russian tourists spent here.

Addressing a press conference in Panaji, Mzareulov said the "weight of the scandal" was such that the matter was now out of the hands of the consular authorities and in the hands of the Russian ambassador.

"Goa provoked the loss of Russian-Indian friendship relations, because as you know we have more than 250,000 Russian tourists here," Mzareulov said.

Russian tourists would now begin to think of Kerala or even other countries as holiday destinations instead of Goa, he said.

The decision to cancel the festival, which had top Indian bands like Indian Ocean and Parikrama playing with their Russians counterparts, was taken by the Goa government after a scuffle between taxi operators and tour operators earlier this week, in which some Russian tourists were injured.

"This is not just loss of money for the organisers, but also a loss of profit from the festival for Goa," Alexander Antipin, Russian news agency Itar-Tass's bureau chief in India, told the media.

Antipin said the top newspapers and Itar-Tass were keeping tabs on the developments involving Russians in Goa and felt that the festival's cancellation would trigger adverse coverage back home.

Backing Antipin, Mzareulov said: "Think about what Russian tourists when they go back to Russia will say about this story."

The festival was to be held Jan 31-Feb 1 at Baga, one of the most popular beaches in north Goa, located 20 km from the capital.

"If money of Russian tourists is nothing for you, if it means nothing for many thousands of families of Goa, it is a matter for the state authorities to decide. We have enough places to be recommended," Mzareulov said.

The diplomat said that both Russia's consular office in Mumbai as well as the embassy in Delhi were shocked when they learnt that the festival was cancelled abruptly.

"Now our pride of this good traditional cooperation between Russia and India has been compromised. We see tourism from Russia to India, especially to Goa, as one of the most important components of bilateral relations. Human relationships are important now after the Soviet Union's disintegration," he said.

Asked if the Russian authorities would issue a travel advisory over the attack on Russian tourists and the abrupt cancellation of the festival, Mzareulov said: "... now the weight of this scandal is so high. High enough to come to level of ambassador."

"The foreign ministry of India and the government of Goa are qualified to find ways for settlement. The festival is not here and there is a feeling of bitterness in many Russian hearts," he said.

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