March 6 (Reuters) - When President Vladimir Putin opens the winter Paralympic Games in the Russian resort of Sochi on Friday he will be short of foreign dignitaries to greet.
Plans to send government ministers and members of royal families have been cancelled by numerous countries in the wake of a Russian incursion into the Crimea region of Ukraine.
The White House has cancelled a presidential delegation to the Paralympic Games, and British Prime Minister David Cameron has said all his government ministers will stay away.
Britain’s Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth’s youngest son, has also said he is no longer going.
Germany will be represented, however, perhaps reflecting its delicate position due to deep economic and energy ties with Russia.
German deputy interior minister Ole Schroeder, who holds the sports portfolio, intends to travel to Sochi, although he acknowledged it would be “with mixed feelings”.
“I can’t ignore the political situation, but at the same time I have the greatest respect for disabled sportsmen and women,” Schroeder, who belongs to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, told Die Welt newspaper, after centre-left politicians called for a boycott by German officials.
German Economy Minister and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel travelled to Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart and Putin on Thursday.
Putin is also due to host a summit of G8 nations in Sochi in June and may find himself deserted. U.S. President Barack Obama and others have already suspended preparations for that meeting, and there is talk of a separate gathering of the Group of Seven powers, excluding Russia.
Crimea’s parliament voted to join Russia on Thursday and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum within 10 days on the decision in a dramatic escalation of the crisis.
Putin told a news conference on Tuesday that any boycott of the Paralympics over Ukraine would be “the height of cynicism”.
There does not seem to have been any concerted moves by competitors to pull out of the Games.
Of the governments around the world who responded, the Netherlands has cancelled plans to send a government delegation. The health minister and royal family members had been due to go.
Canadian sports minister Bal Gosal said he had been looking forward to cheering on his country’s athletes but would stay away in protest at Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine.
“Our government continues to condemn the actions of the Russian government,” Gosal said in a statement.
Poland, which neighbours Ukraine, has pulled out its Minister for Sport and Tourism, Andrzej Biernat.
Finland’s sport minister, Paavo Arhinmaki, was scheduled to be at the opening ceremony but has cancelled, though he wrote on his blog page that he continued to support athletes’ attendance.
Austrian Defence and Sports Minister Gerald Klug will also no longer attend, and the Czechs, too, will snub Friday’s formalities.
“The defence minister said he doesn’t intend to travel, and I consider that to be right,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Of others who responded, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Australia and New Zealand were not planning to send official representatives in any case. (Writing by Mike Peacock; Editing by Will Waterman)