Canada recalls ambassador from Moscow for consultation

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

An armed serviceman stands near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. Ukraine accused Russia on Saturday of sending thousands of extra troops to Crimea and placed its military in the area on high alert as the Black Sea peninsula appeared to slip beyond Kiev's control. (Reuters)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is recalling Ottawa’s ambassador to Moscow and suspended Canada’s preparations for the G-8 Summit planned for Sochi, after speaking with U.S. President Barack Obama amid fears of all-out war in Ukraine.

Following an emergency meeting with key cabinet ministers Saturday, Mr. Harper emerged with a statement condemning “in the strongest terms” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine, noting further escalation will lead to “ongoing negative consequences for our bilateral relationship.”

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“These actions are a clear violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said. “They are also in violation of Russia's obligations under international law.”

Mr. Putin won parliament’s approval on Saturday to invade Ukraine, where his troops have apparently already seized the strategic Crimea peninsula to the south. His assertion of the right to deploy troops in a country of 46-million people on the ramparts of central Europe creates the biggest confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

"Ukraine's sovereign territory must be respected and the Ukrainian people must be free to determine their own future,” Mr. Harper said in the statement. “We call on President Putin to immediately withdraw his forces to their bases and refrain from further provocative and dangerous actions.”

Ukraine’s newly appointed prime minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, said Russian military intervention would lead to war and instead called for a political solution, joining the West in pleading for a de-escalation.

Mr. Harper said Canada supports the immediate deployment of international monitors from the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to Ukraine, and said the Conservative Government is engaged in discussions aimed at putting together a financial aid package for the recession-hit former Soviet state.

Canada has also suspended its engagement in preparations for the G-8 Summit, currently planned for Sochi, where the Olympics just concluded. In addition, the Canadian ambassador in Moscow is being recalled for consultations.

“We will continue to cooperate closely with our G-7 partners and other allies,” the Prime Minister said. “Should President Putin continue on this course of action, it will lead to ongoing negative consequences for our bilateral relationship.”

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird met in Kiev with the new technical government, and threw Canada’s support firmly behind a political transition he said marks a path to European integration.

The issue has been at the fore in recent months here in Canada, which is home to more than 1.2 million people who claim Ukrainian heritage ­– the world’s third-largest population outside the boundaries of the former Soviet Union.

In January and again earlier this month, Canada imposed travel bans on certain Ukrainian individuals it deemed responsible for human rights abuses during the months-long popular uprising that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. Ottawa also announced it would freeze assets belonging to certain Ukrainian officials, but those targeted financial sanctions have at least been temporarily suspended now that a new government is at the helm and Mr. Yanukovych has fled to Moscow.

Beyond speaking with Mr. Obama on Saturday, Mr. Harper had been working the phones on this issue in recent days, speaking Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is considered a main link between Western leaders and Mr. Putin. He also spoke earlier this week with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The crisis in Ukraine erupted in November, when Mr. Yanukovych, a Moscow ally, shunned deeper association with the European Union for closer ties with Russia, which initially offered a $15-billion bailout for the recession-hit nation.

With a report from Reuters

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